So we know about the somewhat depleted team that the Rapids are working with in 2014. We know that they have a coach who has never gotten any top-flight experience on the touchline, though he does have a much better support network and a better base of players and system than Oscar Pareja did when he took over from Gary Smith. We know we are entering a season where just about every other team in the Western conference either stayed just as good as they were before or got better, while it looks like the Rapids might have regressed.
We have absolutely no idea what any of that is going to mean in terms of the team's finish in the standings though, and there are arguments that can be made for this team finishing anywhere from third in the west to eighth. It all depends on who you ask.
Where do the expectations lie with this team? I asked Burgundy Wave's readers to answer a poll on the topic in the first Daily Wave of the new season and I was surprised; 72% of the people voting saw the Rapids as good enough to get a playoff spot. Only 12% of the 62 voters thought that they would drop below 6th place. The national media is getting a sinking feeling from the Rapids, and the odds all seem to be against us. It's nice to see that, at least within the fanbase, someone still believes in the boys in burgundy after that trainwreck of an off-season.
Everyone Else's Expectations
If we're feeling bullish about Colorado's chances this season, we're pretty much the only ones. Just about every non-biased media outlet has completely tossed the Rapids aside as an afterthought.
Simon Borg on Extra Time Radio had the Rapids finishing eighth. Andrew Wiebe had them at seventh.
The SB Nation MLS Preview's aggregate vote finished with the Rapids in seventh.
MLS has the Rapids ranked 16th (that's third from the bottom in the entire league!) in their first Power Rankings of the season.
In fact, the nicest non-Rapids-related ranking or preview I could find was Sports Illustrated's, which had the Rapids ranked 9th in the league without mentioning the coaching situation.
A year after finishing 1-2 in the MLS Rookie of the Year race, Dillon Powers and Deshorn Brown should be even better. If they can keep their good form and goalkeeper Clint Irwin continues to be an unexpected revelation, the Rapids should be a playoff team again.
You, I like you, SI guy.
It doesn't just cover those sorts of things, either. We covered the fact that Bovada's odds for the MLS Cup feature the Rapids at 50/1, the fourth lowest in the entire league. Despite being absolutely adored by nearly everyone in the media after their finish to 2013, the loss of Pareja was apparently enough to completely remove any air of legitimacy from the Rapids.
This is a season of what-ifs, and I wouldn't bet my house on any scenario you put in front of me, be it good or bad. There's just too many things that could go right or wrong, and as I said before, I could see this team finishing anywhere from third to eighth without much of a 'well, wasn't expecting that' reaction from me.
Best Case Scenario
I'm going to be completely honest with you here: I don't see any situation where the Rapids get higher than third in the West. Just to get that high, they'll have to knock off at least one of the LA Galaxy, Real Salt Lake and Portland, the three teams who will be major favorites for those top three spots. I laid this out in a Daily Wave post a while back; all of the best teams in the league have fantastic depth. This Rapids team, barring a RapKids 2.0 revolution from Marlon Hairston, Grant van de Casteele, Charles Eloundou and Jared Watts, does not have great depth at the moment.
That said, this team could get third in the West assuming that much stays the same from last year with one major difference: better offense. I already covered this in part three of this preview, but the Rapids offense was what held them back for the majority of last year. The chances were created, but the finishing wasn't there. Edson Buddle, who quietly dictated the offense nearly every time he played, was injured or at least nowhere near full fitness for most of the season.
So let's say Buddle comes back at 100%, Gabriel Torres has accustomed himself to the league completely, and Deshorn Brown takes the finishing ability that he's shown in preseason and brings it with him to the games that matter. Dillon Powers gets even better than he was last season, and turns into a 15-point guy instead of just a 10-point guy. Shane O'Neill adds another potent attacker on the flank when moved to fullback, which leaves a bit more space for Chris Klute on the other side since he's not the only attacking fullback any more, allowing for even more chances to be created than last year. The injuries stay manageable and the first level of depth like Dillon Serna and Marvin Chavez does enough work to keep the goals coming.
All of a sudden, the Rapids go from 45 goals in 2013 to 55 or more in 2013. At that point, all the defense needs to do is not regress more than a goal or two.
Worst Case Scenario
There is no way this team gets last place in the West. They are head and shoulders above Chivas USA talent-wise and even in the lost 2012 season, they couldn't out-bad Chivas. If anyone wants to tell you that this 2014 team has any potential to be worse than 2012, they're lying horribly.
So why did I say that the Rapids could get eighth when even that year, they got seventh? Because the West was a hot mess in 2012. The last playoff team (Vancouver) didn't even have 45 points. In fact, if you took that Whitecaps team and put them in last year's West, they would have been... below everyone except for Chivas. San Jose absolutely demolished everything in sight, which meant there were fewer points to go around for the other teams. This season, the West has only one team that people can agree on as being definitively bad, and that's Chivas. (Simon Borg does not count as people.)
The worst case scenario really revolves around other teams more than it does the Rapids. In this scenario, San Jose, Vancouver and FC Dallas all meet their potential this season, and the Rapids are not be able to catch up. Pablo Mastroeni turns out to be just as bad an in-game manager as Oscar Pareja was in his first season and, like Pareja did, loses the team points on his own. A bad injury bug strikes and guys like Hairston and Watts are forced into big minutes, and don't live up to the RapKids predecessors.
We had better hope like hell that this scenario doesn't happen, because that will mean we're giving a mighty nice draft pick to the Portland Timbers thanks to the Danny Mwanga trade. (You want to know what the worst case scenario is? That goddamn Danny Mwanga trade happening again.)
Now, neither of the above scenarios are likely to happen, but it's nice to see that we're probably in for another roller coaster of a season.
Burgundy Wave Predictions
I asked Burgundy Wave's contributors for their best prediction of record and finish this season. In general, we were mostly guessing mid-table for the Rapids.
Chris 'UZ' White:
13-10-11 (50 points), 5th in West
The Western Conference was incredible last season, and the Conference is due for a bit of a dip in form all around. 50 points used to be a guaranteed playoff berth, and I think it will be good enough for 5th in the West again this season. I believe the hand wringing over Mastroeni was way overblown this off-season, and without a major change in style like Oscar brought in 2012, the team's talent should shine through.
12-10-12 (48 points), 5th in West.
The Rapids will have another successful season, but with a return to parity in the league they see little growth from 2013 in conference position. They finish the season with slightly fewer points than last year, but still enough to claim the coveted 5th spot in the west. They retain the Rocky Mountain Cup, but only as current holders, as they draw even on points and goals with Real Salt Lake.
12-12-10 (46 points), 6th in West
Colorado Rapids enter the 2014 season with questions as to what the plan was in the off-season and the overall direction that the club is going. They lost their manager, two top midfielders and have yet to demonstrate on the field that these positions have been filled. That being said, there is plenty of talent on the pitch to contend for a playoff spot. They have a solid goalkeeper and defense that will anchor the team. They return Rookie of the Year Dillon Powers and Deshorn Brown is a year wiser in his adaptation to MLS. Edson Buddle finally looks healthy and ready to go, and oh yeah, they have that Torres kid.
All that being said, I do not believe that the Rapids have improved enough in the off-season to finish in the top five in the ultra competitive Western Conference. The Rapids should be in contention until the final month of the season, but will finish on the outside looking in.
15-10-9 (54 points), 4th in West
With the Rapids ahead of schedule with their RapKids Project and based on last year's one game playoff run, I believe the team is hungry for more. I personally don't think the coaching issue is that big of deal. Sure it's a media point but hey they are always looking for negatives. I think the veteran presence of Moor and others make up for the lack of any direction. These guys do get paid right? And Pablo is out there directing. To me the manager is a cheerleader, wears the right tie (no sweaters please), subs in players, and is the media fall guy. Real question is who is tactically preparing the team? That ultimately wins you games. I didn't always feel Oscar was the brains behind that operation.
In the end I vote against a sophomore slump (fingers crossed) with Brown and Torres the second coming of Casey/Cummings dynamic duo. Do I dare say one of them will make a run at Casey's 16 goal mark? Yes I do! With a strong goal scoring presence, a solid 4th place will result with maybe a 3rd place if we can find the back of the net more consistently. And yes, I'm drinking the Hinchey/Rapid Kool Aid. Why not? The excitement of a new season, It's March, I'm tired of Winter, and I'm excited to back among my Footie Family! Positive fan attitude is key! Of course facing Supporter's Shield winners, Western Conference Champs, and MLS Cup winners in consecutive weekends could wash away any joy and cause gut wrenching heartache soon enough...Richard Terry:
14-11-9 (51 points), 4th in West
Despite the Rapids squeaking into the Western Conference playoffs last season and losing head coach Oscar Pareja to FC Dallas, I have a positive outlook for the team going into the 2014 season. Pablo Mastroeni will be the head coach for the new campaign and should be able to motivate and train the squad despite going straight from being a player to a coach. Colorado should find themselves to make the playoffs again.
Game No. 1 against the New York Red Bulls is mere days away; we've said all that we can say for now. Go Rapids!
See the rest of the Burgundy Wave Rapids Season Preview: