The job of finding talented footballers to bring in to Colorado will always be shrouded in a bit of mystery.You and I didn't get to go to Argentina, or Honduras. We didn't see what Claudio Lopez and Paul Bravo saw on the soccer fields when they went to scout Lucas Pittinari, or Juan Ramirez, or Maynor Figueroa. Maybe they looked spectacular. Game-changing. Or maybe, if you had gone to Buenos Aires, your report to the Colorado Rapids FO would've confirmed what we saw on the pitch this season about a player like Pittinari : "Terrific work rate. Terrible passer. Prone to defensive lapses as he gets too far forward in attack. There's more fish in the sea." We shall never know.
We therefore must evaluate the work of Mr. Bravo and Mr. Lopez based on what we saw on the fields of MLS this year. Is that fair? Soccer is a results oriented business: 11 world-class footballers who play gorgeous football and lose each week will be called a failure. So too, their coach. Just ask Chelsea.
So I'll do this review of the general managerial team by looking at all the added and subtracted players, and evaluating whether the decision, in hindsight that decision worked out as good, bad, or undecided. Here we go.
Players Not Retained - Preseason
|NAME||Was that decision Good? Bad? Are we Undecided?|
|Grant Van De Casteele||Good|
Of the players on this list, only one distinguished himself this year as a player the Rapids may regret having let go of. Fan-favorite Marvell Wynne had an excellent year at fullback for San Jose, playing the most minutes of anyone on the team and playing in all but two matches for a club that just missed the playoffs. Another player that left, Jose Mari, the Rapids would have have wanted to hang on to, but was homesick for his native Spain. Mari lost his starting spot with Levante at the end of October, so perhaps it isn't going very well there. Mari played defensive mid for the Rapids but has been in more of a central attacking role in Levante's 5-3-2. His last game he and his club got shredded by Carlos Vela's Real Sociedad, 4-0. Interesting.
The rest of this list can be categorized as unsuccessful in one of the following ways:
-> Stuck in the lower leagues of USL and NASL (Agbossoumonde, Armstrong, Nasco, Van DeCasteele, Neeskens);
-> Firmly on the bench for another MLS side (Buddle, Mwanga, Klute);
-> Out of football entirely (Hill, Knight)
-> Injured (Cascio)
-> On a team in Hungary that I've never heard of (Piermayr)
So on the whole, the Rapids subtracted 14 players before this past year began, and we can say with some certainty made only one mistake in releasing a player that could've helped in exchange for a lesser player. They got rid of an expensive but high-quality fullback (Wynne signed for $250,000 with SJ), and ended up replacing him with the cheaper (and lower-quality) James Riley coupled with a re-positioned Drew Moor.
Overall, as you'll see, the changes (players released vs. players added) were a net improvement, and none of these guys turned out to have a big year that made the Rapids regret his release, a la Kyle Beckerman. Perhaps Chris Klute could have developed another year if he'd stayed in Commerce City. Perhaps a backline of Klute-Burling-Moor-Wynne, with Sjoberg or Watts filling in, would have been better. We can't know that from the evidence we have. But we'll always wonder.
Players Brought In - Preseason
|Name||Was that decision Good? Bad? Are we Undecided?|
|James Riley||Really Bad|
In a simple sense, you could make the argument that Bravo and Lopez were successful. The team subtracted 14 players and added 12, and the new players were overwhelmingly better than the old players. If the metric of a front office is: ‘Did they make the team better?', then Bravo and Lopez succeeded.
But clearly, in a season in which the Rapids finished last in the Western Conference and second worst to only the Chicago Fire in MLS, it's hard to make the case that the front office ‘succeeded' in 2015. Let's start by looking at defenders.
The Rapids defense was a train wreck in 2014. After Moor's ACL popped and Shane O'Neill went down to injury, a makeshift backline of Watts, Wynne, Burch, Klute and Zat Knight were awful and doomed the team to a 14-game winless skid. The 2015 defense added fullbacks Michael Harrington and James Riley, and Center Backs Sjoberg, Burling and Greenspan.
Harrington had the hallmarks of a success, starting effectively at LB, but suddenly lost his starting spot mid year, then was lost to injury. You can't blame the FO for not seeing that in their crystal ball. Sjoberg also looked great early, although he was a bit raw and still needs to add dimensions to his game beyond aerial domination and clearances. He can still be called a success: he played a lot of minutes as a rookie, and the only fellow SuperDraft rookies that saw as much playing time were Cyle Larin and Matt Polster.
Burling also helped to anchor a more stable and effective back line, despite a tendency to foul. The addition of James Riley, however, is another story. "Hey, this guy couldn't crack the starting lineup for the LA Galaxy for over a year. Let's pull him off waivers and plug him in: I'm sure that'll work out" - said no one, ever. Except Paul Bravo and Claudio Lopez. Riley got burned often; mostly on failures to close down, but occasionally when he just couldn't hang with with a faster, younger winger. The ‘Pis plugged in Moor for a bit, which was ok. It wasn't until the last few weeks of the season, when all was lost, that the Rapids gave that right back spot over to Marlon Hairston, who looked young and sometimes shaky. But at least Hairston is likely to grow into a good fullback, instead of aging out of having been an average one. Greenspan might turn into an MLS player, but the data is incomplete.
At goalkeeper, Zac MacMath played 3 games and at no point tackled an LA Galaxy player in the first minute to earn the fastest red card in league history. So that's a step in the right direction. But seriously, MacMath was good and he's both an excellent backup and capable to start.
At midfield, the Rapids added Sarvas, Cronin, Pittinari, and Ramirez. On balance, I don't think these moves can be called a success. Sam Cronin was a stable presence, and played very solid defense while being moderately effective as an offensive piece.
Marcelo Sarvas: well, he didn't so much work out. Was it injury? Was it age (he's 34)? Was it chemistry? Was it bad tactics? Was it the five man midfield? Was it the guys around him? Sarvas went from 3 goals, 11 assists with LA in 2014 to 2 goals, 1 assist with Colorado. He played 2200+ minutes for LA and 1800+ for the Rapids. He looked like a good get when he was signed. On the other hand, he hadn't been a creative attacker for LA: he and Baggio Husidic did box-to-box dirty work for the Galaxy, and left the glory stuff to Landon Donovan, Robbie Keane, and Gyasi Zardes. I'm not sure why the Rapids office thought he'd suddenly become an offensive spark in Colorado.
Pittinari and Ramirez can equally be chalked up as front office failures. Maybe they're young, and meant to grow. Maybe they weren't coached up properly. Nonetheless, Ramirez did not prove in games that he deserved to start over Dillon Serna. And although Pittinari was often an effective defender, he could be counted on to cough up the ball and kill an offensive possession with clockwork regularity. Surely there were two guys in South America better than these two guys, yes? That's a damning error that can only fall upon Bravo and Lopez.
Finally, the bright, shining, unmitigated success of the front office in 2015 has to be Dominique Badji. Not because he's amazing: Badji was just OK. He can hold up a little and poach a little. His passing and take-on's aren't there yet, and I didn't seem him put his head on the ball much either. But he's a success, because he was a 4th round pick in the SuperDraft. Go look at this list. You never heard of any of these dudes past round one. Hell, the Red Bulls released their first rounder, Leo Stoltz, last week. Meanwhile Badji played in 15 games and scored two goals for the ‘Pids. Diamond in the rough.
Again, overall, these guys are an upgrade over the released players. But they didn't shine. Only Cronin established himself as a reliable and first-rate every-game MLS player for the woeful 2015 Rapids. When you bring in 12 players, and only one fully pans out, you didn't succeed.
Players brought in - Midseason
|NAME||Was that decision Good? Bad? Are we Undecided?|
|Luis Solignac||Bad but Undecided|
|Sean St Ledger||Undecided|
|Maynor Figueroa||Undecided - And we'll never know|
The Rapids added a few players midseason; Ben Newnam was an early season call-up. He got a start against the Red Bulls when Drew Moor was a late scratch. He didn't look good. He was later released. Luis Solignac, brought into score goals, didn't. At all. Maybe he can turn it around in 2016. But I doubt it.
Kevin Doyle only got half a season to gel with the team, and it could be argued that he didn't receive enough service to be chalked up as either a success or a failure. The number I think best informs us about strikers is Expected Goals (xG). Doyle scored 4 goals on 29 shots. Based on his location on the field for those 29 shots, the maths say he should have scored 3.41, for a difference of +0.59. Elite scorers like Kei Kamara, Didier Drogba, Robbie Keane and Obafemi Martins scored at a clip of +3.55 and above. Other strikers in the ~0.50 range: Darren Mattocks, Dom Oduro, Tesho Akindele. Good players. Not ‘million dollar DP' players.
Doyle isn't yet a failure, but he could become one.
Sean St Ledger looked good at times and less good other times. The stat line tweeted below implies he was mostly not good.
The #Rapids96 allowed only 22 goals in their first 21 matches. After making St. Ledger a starter, they allowed 21 in their last 13.— Burgundy Wave (@Burgundywave) December 12, 2015
Maynor Figueroa joined the Rapids on August 7, and played 10 games. I thought he looked very good, but the team also conceded 18 goals in those matches. It could be small sample size. But we'll never know, since Figueroa was not renewed for 2016. At 32 years old and at a position that puts a great deal of importance on speed, the likelihood of Figueroa getting better in 2016 was low.
Players Sold - Midseason:
|NAME||Was that decision Good? Bad? Are we Undecided?|
|Deshorn Brown||Good. Maybe?|
|Shane O'Neill||Good and maybe undecided|
Deshorn Brown was sold after one game into the MLS season to Valarenga in Norway's Tippelligaen. The transfer fee was not disclosed, but estimates range in the mid to high 6 figures. The speedy Brown was talented but also had a propensity to take audacious shots and miss spectacularly: his xG was one of the worst among strikers in 2014.
Shane O'Neill had a curious year: gathering dust on the Rapids bench after the return of Drew Moor from his knee injury, but starting for the USMNT U-23s in matches in between. The only games I saw him in were against the USL Colorado Springs Switchbacks, where he pretty much bossed his less-talented opponents, and playing at Right Back for the Chipotle Homegrown All-Stars, where he looked out of sorts against some younger and more talented Club America junior players. His sale to a club in Cyprus for a mid 6 figure transfer fee could be chalked up to a lot of things: a plateau in growth, a failure of the Rapids to grow the youngster, or perhaps some unspoken falling-out with head coach Pablo Mastroeni. We will probably never know.
Rapids fans can argue that perhaps both of these players could've been sold for more. I doubt it. We won't really know whether these moves were good or bad for at least two to four years or so. I'm inclined to say that the Rapids sold high on both, and will be able to look back and chalk both sales up as net gains.
Overall Grade: C-
All in all, the results of player moves for the Rapids in 2015 were below-par. The individual pieces were disappointing, as were the sum of the parts. The team acquired some young players that showed flashes but couldn't display the complete skills necessary to get it done at the level that MLS today demands, and some older players who didn't establish themselves in such a way that they made the team better.
The Rapids winter ‘hot stove' is active. Fourteen players were left without contracts. The addition of Marco Pappa and Micheal Azira and the subtraction of Drew Moor and Bobby Burling are in-process or imminent. And the team has a DP slot, a ton of cap room, and around $900,000 in TAM (Targeted Allocation Money) to play with.
Of course, so do a lot of other teams.
The big difference, perhaps, might be the addition of Padraig Smith, who I debated including in my review alongside Bravo and Lopez. Smith was added only in January, and I imagine wasn't fully up to speed with all the ins and outs of playing GM in MLS until midyear. He's now had a full year to figure out this team. His history in Europe and his interest in advanced statistics gives Rapids fans the hope that he can apply his sabrmetric skills to the team and Moneyball this team into the playoffs. I don't know what to make of the article that stated that he uses Football Manager to scout: that's either freaking brilliant and things are looking up, or proof that the Rapids are in really bad shape for 2016. I'll tell you what I think in March.
* Note: Other players in the bottom twelve of this list are Juan Ramirez and Luis Solignac. Math says the two should have scored a total of four more goals than they did. Arrgh.