Sunday was an interesting day to be a soccer fan in the United States. There were four Major League Soccer games (up from the customary two) on television with D.C. United playing Chicago Fire, New York Red Bulls vs Philadelphia Union, Houston Dynamo vs Seattle Sounders and LA Galaxy vs Portland Timbers.
All four of those matches had playoff implications (in one form or the other) and there was some good (and some ugly) football to be had. Of greatest importance to me was the Portland at LA match. Not that I have a dog in the fight in that one, but it was two Western Conference teams who seem to go about their business in different ways but have been two of the more competitive clubs (if not successful) in the West.
The Galaxy seem to spend big on big name players and it has helped them to win three MLS Cups in the last four years.
The Timbers don't splash the cash on big name players but they play a good brand of soccer that is attractive to watch and they are always in a playoff race and have made it twice (including this year) in the last three years and have double digit wins in four of their first five years in the league.
So on Sunday it was a treat to see the Galaxy and Timbers put five in the nets and Portland got a massive 5-2 win to nearly, nearly secure their trip to the playoffs. It was just such a fun game to watch and it made me wonder....are the Colorado Rapids close to being that team that can contend year in and year out?
At the end of the 2013 season I would have said yes. We had a young and talented coach in Oscar Pareja who was able to work wonders with a young and developing team. Young and hungry players such as Clint Irwin, Chris Klute, Shane O'Neill, Dillon Powers, Dillon Serna and Deshorn Brown all graced the pitch that year. The Rapids won 14 games and no one wanted to play that team.
And at the end of the 2015 season, Kulte, O'Neill, Brown and Pareja are all gone and the current Gaffer has mis-managed Powers, Serna and Irwin at one point or another over his term in charge.
The Rapids are no longer that young and exciting team that people fear. They have, in a phrase, become the laughing stock of Major League Soccer.
But is there hope? Can the Rapids contend?
I think so. There is talent on this roster, and with a few tweaks they can get back closer to the playoff places and actually give opponent fits. Aside from a coaching change (which has to be the first thing that happens) the Rapids might want to consider the following adjustments or changes:
Goalkeeper--this is the rock of this team with Irwin the starter and the probably back-up being John Berner who spent this season on loan with Charlotte Independence. Zac MacMath is on loan from Philadelphia Union and I am not sure he will come back or want to come back as a back-up.
Defender--the greatest need here is a legitimate right back for the Rapids. Drew Moor has played well when called upon to take the right side, but he is more of a central defender and I would love to see what Moor and a full season with St. Ledger could produce. With St. Ledger and Moor in the middle with Maynor Figueroa on the left side, the Rapids actually have a pretty good back three. With Axel Sjoberg ready to go in the middle and Bobby Burling, this is clearly a strong area of this club. But they need a fourth. Marlon Hairston has been talked about as a right back, but he has played one game for the Rapids this year and it is too early to see if he can be the guy and if he wants to be the guy.
Midfield (Defensive)--the Rapids are solid in D-Mid depth, but it is time to see what Jared Watts as a starting defensive midfielder will bring. I love Nick LaBrocca, but he is more of a depth guy now and not necessarily a starter on this team, so other than Watts and LaBrocca I am not sure what the Rapids have here. I know people love themselves some Sam Cronin, Marcelo Sarvas and Lucas Pittinari, but I am not sold on those guys. (Side note: Cronin should NOT be the Captain of this team. It should be Moor). Sarvas in particular can do some fantastic things, but I do not think he comes back. This is not what he signed on for, so his off-season will be interesting.
Midfield (Attacking)--another area of strength for this team. They have Serna, Powers, Gabriel Torres (who can play forward as well), Vicente Sanchez (who can also play forward), Juan Ramirez, and Carlos Alvarez. There are some creative players in that mix but they do not seem to have that clear #10 in the group. The one guy that can make everyone better. Sanchez has been terrific this year, but for all of that "terrificness" the team has only won 8 games and he does not elevate the rest of the team. That is not a knock on him, just an assessment. The Rapids need to find that #10. But they also need to stop screwing around with Powers and Serna. Those two players should consistently start and consistently play. Find a way to make it happen as the Rapids are a better team when both players are on the pitch at the same time.
Forward--let's be honest here: this is the largest problem area on the field this season for Colorado. The Rapids have been poor in front of goal all season and much of it has to do with disappointing forward play. In addition to Sanchez and Torres, the Rapids have Kevin Doyle, Luis Solignac, Dominique Badji, Charles Eloundou and Caleb Calvert who can play up front. I have been impressed with Doyle as he is a true #9 that the Rapids need and I am so stoked to see what he is going to do in 2016. I like Badji and Eloundou (who I think will be gone in 2016) and I really want to see Calvert get a shot (but since he is a young guy and PM hates young guys, well.....). Solignac has been a bust in 2015, so not sure if he comes back. However, I think the forward position would really benefit from the addition of the #10 that I spoke about earlier. The service has not been great for the Rapids and that has been a major issue for them. When Doyle gets service, he scores (or nearly does). Granted, the shots have not all been great or well taken by the forward line, but there is some talent up front. They just need that playmaker behind them to push them over the edge.
This will be an interesting off-season for Colorado. Does PM stay? What players stay or go? Can this team become competitive (and relevant) for 2016.
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