Oscar Pareja and the Colorado Rapids front office made it quite clear at the start of the season that they were going to take this team in a direction we had never seen before. After years of older players trying to push their way to a low playoff spot, the Rapids decided to try out a system based on youth and depth. They traded away and cut a lot of the old veteran talent, including Conor Casey, Jeff Larentowicz, Omar Cummings and the rest of the crew that we had come to know so well. In their stead, we got Deshorn Brown, Dillon Powers, Kevin Harbottle, two new homegrown players and a team that featured only a smattering of remaining veteran influence.
Growing pains were, of course, predicted for the squad. Youth players, especially when put together in large numbers, can struggle with chemistry and technical aspects of their growing games. Colorado was able to push that aside and get results regardless thanks to some meteoric rises by guys like Shane O'Neill, but there remain issues with finishing and attacking movement that the guys like Brown have struggled to grow into as quickly as we may have liked.
A lesser team in this situation may have done what teams normally do in MLS in that kind of situation: buy a veteran player to sap up the minutes and try to carry the squad back to prominence. It's how New York Red Bulls always seem to do things. It's the way that Toronto have always tried to tape up their deficiencies. Vancouver have done it once or twice.
Colorado did not fall into that trap, and instead we learned yesterday that they're actually planning on proving their intent in the exact opposite direction. Gabriel Torres, a rising star for the Panamanian national team that booked their spot in the Gold Cup final yesterday, is reportedly set to join the Rapids as their first ever Designated Player as soon as next week.
I know that at some point, a DP has come up in pretty much everyone's mind who follows the team and has seen just about every other team in the league pick one up at some point or another. Hell, the second article ever published on this site was talking about a recently signed DP and asking who the Rapids would get. (Spoilers: Nobody, but it didn't end up mattering much.) Tell the truth though, when you had wistfully thought of a DP on the Rapids, you weren't picturing a 24-year-old out of Panama, were you? It was probably an aging European player, maybe a Brazilian or an Argentinian if they were going south of the border. Maybe you really wanted Ryan Giggs to make the leap down to Major League Soccer or something, Thierry Henry style.
That wasn't to be though, and it's a good thing. In fact, the signing may actually push out some of the only older players left on the squad. Atiba Harris and Edson Buddle have sapped up minutes for the Rapids this season, and both have had struggles. Torres will come in and provide a new No. 9 type to take a spot from one of them. Youth taking over for experience. More youth, but youth brought in to help the team win now, not later. Say they don't make the Torres signing, where is Buddle in two years? Harris? They're both still the same player they are now, with little chance that the minutes are going to increase for either.
It's the same way with an aging DP. Say they bring in Ryan Giggs. (Hey, it was a thing for like 10 minutes back in 2010!) Where is Giggs in two years, when this team is starting to hit their potential? Probably either retired or very quickly declining. So that's a few million dollars down the drain, and for what? Unless you win a trophy with 'The Kids + Giggs', it's a waste. Torres brings in another dynamic bit of potential. In two years, there's a chance that this Rapids team is scary good. With Torres in the mix as well, there's a chance that they're even better.
And even if he doesn't pan out immediately? It's not a team looking to buy their way out of it with veterans or win right off the bat. This will not be a Jarju situation.
Colorado's commitment to youth continues to shine through with every signing they make, and it's very good to see that they're not breaking that commitment just because of a silly little thing like a Designated Player contract getting in the way.