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Oh Julien, Where Art Thou?

The Rapids center back crisis continues. Wynne-Watch 2012 is still on. And whatever happened to that other good center back that we had?

If you don't miss this guy, you should.
If you don't miss this guy, you should.
Harry How

If you ever ask me about players, I don't tend to be sentimental. I mostly brush off player questions of "it would be nice if he could stay, but we'll live without him." Then I usually give some version of the phrase "you play for the crest on the front, not the name on the back," and turn back to my half-finished pint of lager without much of a grumble.

But if there is one player who I would grumble about and still grumble about to this day: it's Julien Baudet. Or "Giles Donkey" if you will.

I liked Baudet when he came to the team because he added a kind of steel to a back line that was sorely in need of it. You think the back line is bad now? The back line that Gary Smith was building had Scott Palguta as a starter--no Drew Moor, no Marvell Wynne, not even a Kosuke Kimura (he wasn't starting regularly back then either) or an Anthony Wallace. Drew Moor came in a trade with Dallas in 2009, and Julien came later. I was excited at this because Baudet, I thought, had experience being a defender in a tough league and was captain of his previous team Crewe Alexandria, thus he could provide some much needed leadership to the back line and would be ideal to help foster the still-youngish Drew Moor.

Julien ended up being dismissed from the team right after winning the MLS Cup in 2010. No, I mean like right after. Apparently Paul Bravo had to tell him that he was traded to Seattle right on the ride home. Don't know what was going on there or who were the responsible parties. From what I heard it was a salary cap issue: they wanted to retool for 2011 and they needed to free up some cap space to do so (for such brilliant signings as Caleb Folan). I think of Julien as a casualty of a faulty time, and the first real sign that something was rotten in the state of Colorado.

(Ed note: A bigger reason he didn't get re-signed is that he was taking up an international slot, along with trade-fodder partner Danny Earls, something that Gary Smith seemingly wanted to open. Again, for brilliant signings like Caleb Folan!)

If you remember, Wynne was a temporary solution to the center back issue because Julien Baudet was ruled out of that first Chivas USA match. He performed well in the role and Smith began to change the center back role for Wynne to make him more of a sweeper, and as that system became more solid and started getting results, and as Drew Moor grew to confidence in the leadership role which he then took over from Baudet, Julien found himself playing Scott Palguta's position as the first Center Back off the bench.

Julien still was a fan-favorite though. I liked him. But more importantly, I always kept thinking of him as our Center Back, and Wynne as our right back, and that the "Wynne at Center Back" experiment would be over any day now. But it wasn't. It kept going, because Smith had found his results with Wynne playing Sweeper, and was prepared to make a run at the playoffs, and then a run at the Cup... and we know how the rest went.

Julien eventually got deemed surplus to requirements, and thus was cut from the team to make salary cap room for off-season retooling in a really weird deal that saw us getting Peter Vagenas for a few seconds. And then remember the Anthony Wallace to Portland drama? Wow. Just thinking about that 2010-2011 off-season gives me the shakes. What a nightmare that was.

But here we are in 2012 and we are facing down a Center Back crisis where we have a scenario unfolding in which Drew Moor is the only guy on the squad who can naturally play Center Back. I'm all for positional flexibility, but man, this is not good no matter how you slice it. Pablo Mastroeni is coming back, and he has played at Center Back, but I'm not sure that's where Oscar Pareja is going to put him. Pablo has the skills to be a center back, but doesn't match the physical description and at this point in his career I don't know if he wants to start bulking up to play the role.

I can't help but think that we missed something a while ago. If we'd still had Julien Baudet, this wouldn't be a crisis. Wynne would be our starter at Right Back. Kosuke would be a bench guy if anything. Left Back is and will remain a mystery. But Center Back would be taken care of: Baudet would be there. At 33 and in top physical shape, Baudet would have been a great piece to have.

This isn't to say he was perfect: often overdramatic, over-emotional, card-prone, and confrontational with his teammates on the pitch--Baudet was a handful. But even with that, he would have been a great Center Back. And if we'd still had him, we wouldn't be looking down the barrel of a "what the heck do we do now?" situation if contract talks with Wynne break down. Or if the negotiations break down with Hunter Freeman we're in a similar situation for Right Back. While I am all for giving the position to young Davy Armstrong and having him make a go of it, it's pretty clear that the coaching staff don't have such a rude awakening for the youngster in mind.

We can't learn from the past if we forget it. I chalk Julien Baudet up as a casualty of a bad time in Rapids history and a time that we don't want to repeat. As much as we loved the Cup win in 2010, the price it exacted on Colorado should be clear. If we ever want to win a Championship again, we ought never to want to return to the era of Gary Smith and "win now". This off-season and every off-season, the Rapids FO and Coaching staff need to be on the same page or at least reading from the same book.

If you ask me about players, the only player I will still grumble about is Julien Baudet.

And hopefully, I don't have to grumble about Marvell Wynne too.