As we do every year, Burgundy Wave is counting down our 10 most important things to watch for the Rapids this year. Coming in at number 10 is center forward Edson Buddle.
The Colorado Rapids are a team with a defined style, and it's a rather fun style when it works out. They love to play quick on the offense, with high-pressing fullbacks and wingers combining in a flurry of off-the-ball runs, diagonal balls and crosses to create chances. It's dazzling when it works out, but it needs anchors to keep it steady. Usually, that 'anchor' role is held by Dillon Powers in the center of midfield. To work effectively, the system of attack doesn't necessarily need a hold-up specialist at center forward ahead of him. However, it does usually seem to help.
Colorado only has one true center forward on the entire roster, and that's Edson Buddle. Gabriel Torres can play the spot, but he only serves to add another runner and gunner into the mix up top. His skill on the ball, off-the-ball ability and fantastic shot mean he'll score goals from that spot, but he's not the type of guy who plays with his back to goal. Deshorn Brown can play center forward, but his skills are far better suited to a wide game (think Omar Cummings with some strength in his game). He is best deployed as a center forward when you're down a goal late and want to hoof it through Route 1 to the guy who makes something out of nothing, Gareth-Bale-with-Spurs style.
That leaves Buddle. He had a quiet first year in burgundy, at first glance. Five goals and three assists wasn't at the top of the leader board. He was often chided for being out of fitness and occasionally didn't see a whole lot of the ball. Regardless, when Buddle was healthy, the Rapids tended to win games. Three of Buddle's goals were game-winning, and two of his assists were as well. Of the Rapids' 14 wins last year, he had a hand in over 1/3. He was often quiet, but he was always influential when he was on the field. (It can also be argued that the majority of the games he was in that the Rapids lost weren't really his fault, as he was sometimes forced to act as a hold-up man for the slowest 'forward' tandem in soccer last year, Atiba Harris and Nick Labrocca.)
Unless the Rapids turn a major corner and begin scoring for fun with the numerous chances they create from the run-n-gun, the hold-up influence in the center of the park will have to help and add a steadying variety in the final third. The Rapids simply play better when they have that extra element in the attack, and Buddle is, for the moment, the only one who can play it.