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Caleb Folan's improvement is just in time for the Rapids

Colorado Rapids striker Caleb Folan goes airborne for a head ball in front of Heath Pearce #3 of Chivas USA during their game at Dick's Sporting Goods Park August 20, 2011 in Commerce City, Colorado. (Photo by Marc Piscotty/Getty Images)
Colorado Rapids striker Caleb Folan goes airborne for a head ball in front of Heath Pearce #3 of Chivas USA during their game at Dick's Sporting Goods Park August 20, 2011 in Commerce City, Colorado. (Photo by Marc Piscotty/Getty Images)
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This season's 'big' signing for the Colorado Rapids was Caleb Folan, the target forward formerly of mid-tier Championship teams like Hull City. After being signed on right at the beginning of the season, he has had a frustrating year. It started off well with a brace in his second appearance of the season against DC United, but after that had game after game of nothing but bad performances for a long string, going goalless for months. With a string of injuries to other strikers like Conor Casey and Omar Cummings, Folan was needed big time by the club but in his early days seemed unable to play the physical yet quick game required by MLS strikers.

This led to a meme that the 'Caleb Folan experiment has failed', which I've always found strange because Folan is  not really an experiment but a simple story of a classic target forward adjusting to a new league. Fortunately, patience has started to pay off a bit and those of us who have expected Folan to get better as the season went along have been rewarded with some great performances out of the big man, leading to his spot tied for the team lead in goals.

The mark of a goalscorer is not necessarily how many goals he gets into the net - everybody can have a dry spell despite playing well as Conor Casey did for his first few appearances of the season before he went on that six goal tear - but to say that his play at the start of the year was a simple 'dry spell' would be a bit too nice to the guy. He was playing flat out terribly at times and passably at best in the other times. Caleb looked slow - we're talking 'Conor Casey' levels of slow here - and uninterested in getting physical with defenders as his leaps for headers never seemed to reach the ball. When it came to shots... well, what shots?

Around the time of the Portland Timbers away match that the Rapids won 1-0, we saw a bit of a shift in style from Folan. His shots were still missing the targets but he was actually taking them more often and with more power and bite than we'd seen in the season yet; even his goal against DC from his foot had been a finesse curling one rather than a blast. Unfortunately, the guy still couldn't score so his play was still poorly ranked from just about everybody as he continued to get starts above other guys like Andre Akpan. (At least he outplayed Quincy Amarikwa, but then almost everyone can outplay Quincy Amarikwa.)

There were other improved performances like against the New York Red Bulls and Houston Dynamo that showed Caleb was growing to the potential which his salary seemed to indicate he has, but the goals remained out of the way until the away match against the Seattle Sounders. The Rapids had already all but lost that match 4-2 until Folan streaked into the area and snapped a low cross into the net to make it 4-3 for his first goal in over two full months of football.

While his goal against Seattle didn't seem like much at the time, it's actually started a decent little goal-scoring rip for the Irishman. Caleb has started to play physically like we never thought we'd see from him after some of his earlier appearances in the year, though that red card against that diving bastard Juninho was a bit of an abberation of what we meant when we said we wanted him to play physical.

Just check out Caleb's goal against Chivas USA from Saturday to see what I mean. It's a play that Folan never showed earlier in the year - marked hard by a defender during a run to the far post he went up physically, leaped well into the air and absolutely crushed a header into the top corner. That's the potential Conor Casey type play that they signed Caleb to play in the first place and it caps off a group of performances that's given him six goals and puts him in the position to end the season as the Rapids leading scorer if Omar Cummings and Sanna Nyassi ever regress to non godly levels of scoring together.

Another underrated use for Folan he's shown has been as an almost automatic penalty taker, something the Rapids usually don't have when Casey is out. His two PKs on the season have both been taken very well and with no hesitation. With the playoffs often coming down to penalty kicks, keep your eye on that.

Caleb's still got a ways to go to become worthy of the overpayment that the Rapids gave him salary-wise to get him out of the Championship but his play has been quite bright as of late and if the Rapids are to make another run to the championship game of MLS and win another title, his play will be absolutely vital to the team's successes. Remember, it was not the players like Omar Cummings who won the title for Colorado last season, but the big man up front who scored the gritty goals when the team needed them.