One thing that you knew when you played the Colorado Rapids last year was that if there were going to be goals scored on you, they were probably going to come from Omar Cummings or Conor Casey and if there was an assist, it was probably going to be off the foot of Jamie Smith. The system worked well enough to carry the Rapids into the playoffs and to the MLS Cup Final where they beat Dallas - off a goal from Conor Casey with a Smith assist, no less - but it led to a lot of accusations that the Rapids were just a boring team and far too predictable to keep that sort of thing up for any length of time.
Yesterday against DC United and in fact all year long so far, the goals and perhaps more importantly the assists for the Rapids have been coming from pretty much everywhere on the pitch, not just a predictable Casey/Cummings-Smith combination like we would expect from last season. Past Smith and his eight assists nobody had more than five last season, with Conor Casey of all people being the second on the chart. Just take a look at some of the combinations we saw yesterday though. Jamie Smith from Anthony Wallace. Caleb Folan from Sanna Nyassi. Omar Cummings from Pablo Mastroeni. One of the trademarks about this team so far this year has been their fantastic ability to distribute the ball evenly throughout everyone on the pitch.
The two biggest additions made in the offseason by Colorado were former Seattle Sounder Sanna Nyassi and Hulls striker Caleb Folan. With the team remaining much the same as it was last season it looked likely that neither of the players would feature much in the starting XI. Gary Smith is a smart, smart man though when it comes to making his team play the best that it possibly can and since the signings were assured, the two of them have had quite the number of minutes in the first three games. Nyassi has provided some creativity from the first winger off the bench that was sorely missing last year when the more defensively oriented Wells Thompson and an unfortunately impotent Colin Clark were the first two options. Nyassi also immediately became the fastest man on the wing with his signing, something that the Rapids didn't have unless Omar Cummings had drifted out to the wing, which as we all saw was worse for the team than it helped.
Caleb Folan's skillset when he showed up from Hull were pretty transparent just looking at his size. Large target forward with the ability to get big in the box and force goals in, basically the Irish Conor Casey, if you will. After seeing two games of his work it appears that moving from the Championship to MLS was just what the doctor ordered for him, as we're seeing finesse that is uncharactaristic from big guys like him and nothing showed that more than his beautiful individual effort yesterday for the first goal of the game.
I wrote a while ago that Jamie Smith's season was going to be a key part of the Rapids offense. With only a singular goal to go with his batch of assists last year, he was close to being a big part of the offense but was just a bit short on a lot of his chances, running very hot and cold all season long. He has looked like a new man this year, with two goals already in three games to go with his usual assisting abilities.
A big issue last year was depth for Colorado. Whenever Casey or Cummings was missing until Macoumba Kandji showed up, it was usually a lesser skilled Quincy Amarikwa - as opposed to the improved model from this year - that was taking their place and rarely showing anything while doing so. Wells Thompson is a great player but his offensive skills aren't what anyone would call incredible, being far more suited to a late substitute on defense when the Rapids are already up in the game. Claudio Lopez never really got a shot to show anything but the few times he did appear he looked marginal at best until the Columbus playoff game. With Nyassi and Folan being starter quality on the bench, this offense has been improved immensely in pretty much every sect.
Colorado's offense has been a beautiful thing to watch this year, as they have outscored their opposition 8-2 so far with 3-1, 1-0 and 4-1 wins. With everyone on the pitch showing abilities together that we never saw last year, it looks very likely that this team will outscore their 2010 counterparts and more importantly that they won't need to lean incredibly heavily on the backs of Casey and Cummings in order to do it. Combined with a defense that has looked plenty formidable this year - one of their two goals given up was just on a botched free kick defense after all - and we might be looking at a Supporters Shield contender.