The Colorado Rapids big moves on Thursday added up to a whole heaping lot of change. Thirteen players were left without contracts; that's the most of any Major League Soccer team to date.
Which I suppose, if you finish last in the Western Conference, is probably for the best.
I'm not going to break down every single player's release. Every fan has a sentimental favorite (*cough* Sanchez *cough*) or a player they would've liked to have seen fired into sun (*cough* Solignac *cough*), so let's just not go there.
There are a couple of obvious things to note first. The biggest one is that this team just got a lot younger. The average age of the twelve players released* on Thursday was 29.08 years old. The average age of the sixteen (Sixteen! We couldn't even suit up a full squad tomorrow if we needed to!) players still on the roster is 24.94 years old.
Second thing to note: some of these players are not actually ‘gone'. The Rapids declared their intent to renegotiate with Drew Moor and Sean St. Ledger. I think it likely the Rapids try to retain Bobby Burling as well. Other players, like Dillon Powers, are rumored to be moving to Europe during the international transfer window. This roster will continue to be in flux for quite some time.
What I will do is take a look at a few things. First, what roster holes now clearly need to be addressed on this Rapids squad for 2016? Second, how much money do the Rapids have to spend? And third, how might they best spend it?
Here's the current roster, and the 2015 salary numbers for each player. All numbers are per the September 15 release of the MLS Players Union.
|Name||Position||Salary in 2015|
|Kevin Doyle||F||1,170,000 - DP - Cap cost 436,000|
|Juan Ramirez||M||75,000 - DP - Cap Cost 75,000
The Rapids total payroll as of December 3, 2015 is $2,156,500. That number only includes up to $436,000 of designated player Kevin Doyle's salary, whose DP salary over that number does not count against the cap. It doesn’t take into account some of the more complicated voodoo of MLS salary cap math, called allocation money which is undisclosed. Lastly, it does not take into account the certainty that some of these salaries are set to rise in 2016. A couple of them, I would expect, will rise significantly.
The Rapids have around $1.6 million in cap space to spend. Plus, targeted allocation money of $100,000. Plus, regular allocation money.
How much that is, I have no idea. Allocation money includes all of the following:
- a base of $150,000;
- plus an undisclosed amount for the Rapids cut of Shane O’Neill and Deshorn Brown’s transfer fees;
- plus an undisclosed amount for selling Chris Klute to Columbus;
- plus an allocation of $50,000 if they trade Carlos Vela’s discovery rights to another MLS team;
- plus an undisclosed amount for missing the playoffs.
Plus, the Rapids have an open DP slot. Which, if they don’t use, gives them (sigh) more allocation money.
So, to keep my head from exploding, let’s just say all the 2015 salaries are the same, allocation money doesn’t exist, and you’ve got a DP slot to sign. You've got $1.7 million.
Here’s a reasonable starting lineup based on the current Rapids roster.**
Hairston - Sjoberg - Watts*** - OPEN
Cronin - OPEN
OPEN - OPEN - Serna
By my count, this team needs starters at these positions:
- Center Attacking Midfielder
- Attacking Right Midfielder
- Central Defensive Midfielder
- Left Back
And you’ll need some depth on the bench, from spots 18-20. Let’s start there. You'll get one top-20 roster player in the MLS SuperDraft (the Rapids hold the number 2 pick). Sign an inexpensive foreign player. Bring on some kid from the U18 ; Home Grown Players don’t count against the cap. Say those first two kids cost an average of $80K. You’ve now got $1.54 million left.
You want to use your DP spot. If you’re the Rapids, and you don’t want to finish last again, you pretty much have to, and you almost certainly have to use it on that glamourous number ten attacking midfieder spot. #GoGetVela. Kronke drops a cool $10 mil on Vela. Or Club America midfielder Dario Benedetto. Or Lionel Messi. Whoever. The first $436,000 counts against the cap. You still have $1.1 million to spend.
You want to get a Central Defensive Mid that can do a little of everything. Link up the offense, deliver the crunching tackle, win it in the air, distribute the long ball. You’ll need to spend near the DP threshold of $440,000 to get there, say, an even $400K. You get a player from Serie A or maybe the 2.Bundesliga, or maybe one of those guys from Trinidad and Tobago that gave the USMNT such a hard time. You’re at around $0.7 million.
You want to bring in two full backs at around $200K a piece: one that can play on the left, one to backup or push Hairston for the number one on the right. Bring in another full back near the salary minimum, say $60K, to stash, just in case. We all know what happened when the Rapids were thin in defense in 2014. Let’s not repeat that. You’ve got $240,000 left, and maybe a little more if one of the current roster guys is bumped back to Charlotte, since the cap only applies to spots 1-20 on the roster.
You get a speedy right winger. Maybe he’s Brazilian. Jordinho. Roschinho. I dunno. Something exotic. Boom. Maybe he's a game changer. Or maybe Juan Ramirez or Luis Solignac take that big step forward, and Roschinho is trade bait, or he pushes the other attackers to be better. I dunno.
Anyhow, you’re done. You’ve just built a near playoff-caliber team. With a lot of if's. But that's soccer.
If the Rapids don’t go out and get that creative attacking mid with their DP spot, then you’re looking to get a lot for a little at possibly the most important spot on the pitch. The Rapids either need to try Dillon Serna there, or hope that the next Giovinco has been hidden away in some podunk town in the Andes for only Claudio Lopez to find.
Clearly, there’s more ‘what-if’s’ in this story than you can shake a stick at. Also, life is not a FIFA video game: you don’t see a brightly illuminated ‘78’ on some guy’s forehead, telling you he’s the next Marcelo Balboa. Still, at the very least, I’ve demonstrated that the Rapids have both some serious holes on this team to fill, but also a lot of pesos to spend to fill them. I hope Rapids fans like what they see when the team takes the field in February.
* I didn’t count Zac MacMath as released, since he returned to Philly at the end of his loan to Colorado.
** Maybe you noticed I omitted Dillon Powers. I don’t expect to see him on this team. If he does, I’m still not sure, after watching him for three years, if he’s a starting attacking mid, or a registra-type deep mid, or just unfulfilled talent for the long end of the bench.
*** I see you are wondering about Jared Watts at CB. Hear me out. I think he might get the nod to start at CB. He's certainly to be thought of as a defender, though, and not a d-mid. Watts played nine matches at CB and only 3 at CDM. If he doesn't start at CB, he's got to be replaced by either a) Joseph Greenspan, b) a free agent CB, or c) a re-signed Burling/Moor/St Ledger. Option A gives you more cash to go after offensive upgrades; Options B and C syphon off cap-room for the fullbacks and the cdm you need to go after. If it's me, I put Watts in and see what happens. But these are the tough calls the Padraig Smith, Paul Bravo, and Claudio Lopez get paid to make.