The 2014 season was one to forget for the Colorado Rapids, essentially a repeat of the horrifying 2012 season that saw a new coach come in, completely bungle the gig up, and then end up throwing all manner of crap at the proverbial wall with absolutely none of it sticking. Arguably, that season was even worse in the end than 2012 when it came to results, unfortunately. They didn't just lose like the 2012 team did, they lost embarrassingly. Shocking results like 6-0 and 5-1 losses on national television were the lowlights of a 14-game winless streak to end the season.
Following 2012, of course, was the 2013 season that could be argued to be the best season Rapids fans ever saw. That team was nearly the best defensively in team history and racked up the most points at Rapids team had ever seen, only making the 5th spot in the playoffs because of a late-season collapse and because that was the season that everyone else in the West decided to be awesome, too. Oscar Pareja made incredible strides after a nearly irredeemable 2012 that year; this story is going to have to play out again if we want any playoff hopes for the burgundy boys this time around.
Essentially forgotten in preseason predictions (for good reason, to be fair), the Rapids did make a hell of a lot of moves to improve things this off-season. We'll see how it goes. Here's our enormous preview of the 2015 season, talking about the big things that could, or couldn't, happen for the Rapids in their 20th anniversary season.
Sports fans just never learn their lesson, and it's for that reason that there's some anger that the coach of this team is still Pablo Mastroeni. His 2014 season was absolutely horrendous by any and all stretches of the imagination. We could probably do an entire series of posts based on the numerous coaching mishaps he got himself into last year, but many of them mirrored the same situation that Pareja found himself in back in 2012. A few of the parallel issues both coaches had:
- Inability to pick a consistent line-up and picking favorites that started every game (Nick Labrocca!)
- Random changes of formation with seemingly no rhyme or reason and regardless of the players he had available
- Substitution issues in-game
- Players being played out of position despite it not working
Pareja improved by leaps and bounds his second season in charge, and Pablo might have an even better squad at his disposal this year than Oscar had when he led the team to the playoffs two years back. Will the Rapids legend be able to up his coaching game? Reviews from the preseason were mixed, but it's just preseason so we're never going to glean anything from that. We're not going to know if our coach has improved his tactical and man management abilities by only a bit or by a good lot until the real games start.
Personally, I don't expect a shift to great coaching quite as fast as Pareja, simply because (as was the main criticism of Pablo being hired in the first place) there is no prior coaching experience in Pablo's court, and so it may take him another full season of on-the-job training to reach his potential as a coach. With the talent he has available and the new faces in the coaching staff to help him (Claudio Lopez and Brian Mullan) he should have enough support structure to at least improve enough to keep the Rapids somewhere close to contention.
Of course, as it always is, that's a complete guess. What actually will happen is completely up to Chaos Theory.
It's obvious that change was needed after the awful 2014 showing, a showing that was caused in large part by the lack of decent depth that the team had with the RapKids all graduating to the first team and some of the other names on the team declining in quality or just straight up leaving. A shake-up was necessary, and shake it up the Rapids did, dumping a huge number of names right as the season ended in an option-declined bonanza and then shipping several others out through other means. In all, a whopping 13 Rapids from last year are no longer on the team, and most of them aren't all the Kory Kindle and Steward Ceus types this time, either. (And remember, these are just the players that are out this off-season, that doesn't even count the changes that happened during the season!) Here's the damages:
Edson Buddle (Option declined) - Buddle, after two seasons, departs the Rapids with the 100 goal mark behind him, but possibly not much soccer head of him in his career. Though he had his moments in 2013, there was little to talk about in 2014 past his winner in Toronto. Unsurprisingly, he was jettisoned after his incredibly disappointing 2014 campaign.
Marvell Wynne (Option Declined) - There has been a debate on Wynne's ability to play center back since the Rapids first acquired him, and he ended up on the losing side of that argument in 2014 after Pablo Mastroeni decided he should be back in his old-new position. To the surprise of nobody, he wasn't particularly good in the CB role, and he was sent to the San Jose Earthquakes as a result. As a right back, he may well finish his career with a decent bang, but as it stands, him being out of Commerce City doesn't seem to be a terrible thing.
Gale Agbossumonde (Option Declined) - Agbossumonde was one of the only two players on the Rapids who didn't get a single minute last year (the only was the soon-to-retire Brian Mullan), which was a bad sign since they traded for him. He ended up going to Tampa Bay, where former Rapids second-stringers go to die.
Thomas Piermayr (Option Declined) - Opinions on Piermayr were split last year, with some people thinking he was a worthy specimen at right back and others thinking he wasn't worth the time he got. Unfortunately, he wasn't given a second chance with the Rapids.
Davy Armstrong (Option Declined) - Davy didn't end up getting played. The first homegrown in Rapids history ended up going to the Colorado Springs Switchbacks, where he'll hopefully revive his career after a long stint of not doing a whole lot with the Rapids.
Kamani Hill (Option Declined) - Hill scored a lot of goals against Chivas his first season with the team, did a whole lotta nothing his second year, and then scored a single very pretty goal his third season. Unfortunately, it wasn't to be for Colorado's last foray into the allocation order pool.
Jose Mari (Mutual Consent) - Despite a pretty good 2014 season, all things considered, Jose Mari decided that the United States wasn't the place for him and moved back to his native Spain.
Danny Mwanga (Expansion Draft) - Mwanga's gone, the Timbers got their No. 5 pick done, and we can now put the second worst trade in Rapids history behind us. Ugh.
Tony Cascio (Expansion Draft) - Unfortunately, we'll never see how well Cascio could have blossomed in Colorado, as he was selected by Orlando City in the expansion draft.
Joe Nasco (Traded) - Some of the worst goalkeeping performances in team history came from Joe Nasco, unfortunately. He was involved in one of those trades that yielded nothing for either team, and we're probably not likely to see him again.
Zat Knight (Mutual Consent) - The Edu of defense.
Chris Klute (Traded) - Traded to the Columbus Crew in the move that moved the Rapids up for Axel Sjoberg in the draft, this trade caused a lot of anger among some circles of the Rapids faithful. However, the allocation money that he netted the team helped with the acquisition of some key names below, which softened the blow. Besides, he was really not all that great in 2014 after his unbelievable rise to glory in the second half of the 2013 season.
Brian Mullan (Retired) - We'll always have fond memories of Brian Mullan's occasional wondergoals for the Rapids as well as his fantastic contributions to the 2010 cup team (I still maintain that if the team doesn't trade for him, they never even come close to that cup final). Now he's joined Jamie Smith in the '2010 Rapids starters who are now team coaches' group.
With so many players being jettisoned from the roster, it was only natural that the Rapids would have a very busy off-season of acquisitions as well. And when it came to winning the off-season, on paper the team is absolutely scores better than they were last season in terms of talent. The defensive midfield, the biggest hindrance for the Rapids last year, is now possibly the biggest strength of the team. A new young DP has been added to the mix, and a brand new batch of proven defensive depth is now in the mix as well. If the Rapids are bad this year, it's probably not going to be because of the new talent that was brought in... and they still might not be done, with names like Kevin Doyle still being thrown out now that the Collective Bargaining Agreement has been agreed. Here's all the new names:
Juan Ramirez - The headlines of the off-season have to go to the young Argentine Juan Ramirez. The Rapids reportedly paid $2 million for his services and brought him in as a DP -- a young DP, but a DP nonetheless -- making him only the second man to earn the title in Rapids history. He's a relative unknown, but a guy that the team thinks can be a Vicente Sanchez-type player in the future. We'll see about that.
Lucas Pittinari - Though Ramirez is going to get the majority of the press, it's Pittinari who may be the most important of the South American signings for the Rapids this season. The defensive midfielder showed well in the preseason and is stepping into a potential starting role in a spot where the Rapids need a lot of upgrades from last season, especially in their new 4-2-3-1.
Marcelo Sarvas - Pittinari will get some big help, of course, because the Rapids also acquired Marcelo Sarvas. One of the best defensive midfielders in MLS, his passing aptitude and tackling will be an immediate upgrade from either of the two starters of last season in his position, a call-back to Hendry Thomas at his best.
Zac MacMath - Approximately nobody expected the Rapids' goalkeeping situation to change over the off-season after Clint Irwin, Joe Nasco and John Berner were let down mostly by their defense last year. Despite that, the Rapids confusingly decided that Zac MacMath was worth a second-round pick. Of course, if adding a proven starting goalkeeper on loan is the worst move of your off-season, you've probably had a pretty decent off-season.
Sam Cronin - One of a few signings that probably won't make any headlines, but are still very important for the Rapids, Cronin came in from the San Jose Earthquakes to add another name to the growing list of depth in the midfield for the Rapids. It will be interesting to see if it's him or Pittinari who gets the majority of the starts next to Marcelo Sarvas.
Axel Sjoberg - The man is 6'7'', but for a man that size he's got a surprising spring in his step and more composure than one would expect. The Rapids made a large move to skip up in the draft and select him, so we'll be expecting big things from the big man.
Bobby Burling - Burling is another one of those signings that won't garner much excitement, but was an absolute necessity after the depth-less 2014 Rapids team's collapse. He might not play 2000 minutes this year, but we won't have to be biting our nails as much having him in front of the still-learning Jared Watts and Grant Van de Casteele.
Caleb Calvert - Calvert's probably going to spend the season in Charlotte or on the Rapids bench. Though he's got potential, he played very few minutes with Chivas USA and will have to do tremendous things to push his way to the top of the striker rotation with Deshorn Brown and Gabriel Torres in front of him.
Michael Harrington - The first move of the Rapids off-season was to pick up an immediate starter in Harrington, who immediately provides good two-way play from either fullback position. Expect to see a lot of #5 this season.
Dom Badji - It's odd that a 4th round draft pick gets so much time in the preseason, but Badji actually showed well in most of his appearances, almost like an even more raw and slightly less speedy Deshorn Brown. Don't expect him to get many minutes with the Rapids this season (he strikes me as more of a Charlotte target assuming they keep him on the team after his preseason bonanza of appearances), but keep an eye on him as a name for the future.
Goalkeepers: Zac MacMath, Clint Irwin, John Berner
Defenders: Marc Burch, Bobby Burling, Micheal Harrington, Drew Moor, John Neeskens, Shane O'Neill, Axel Sjoberg, Grant Van de Casteele
Midfielders: Carlos Alvarez, Sam Cronin, Marlon Hairston, Nick Labrocca, Lucas Pittinari, Dillon Powers, Juan Ramirez, Marvelo Sarvas, Dillon Serna, Jared Watts
Forwards: Deshorn Brown, Charles Eloundou, Vicente Sanchez, Gabriel Torres, Dom Badji
Who To Watch?
Just like last year, I asked Burgundy Wave's contributors for their picks on these categories:
Obvious answers came out for this one. Three of us expect Gabriel Torres to finally hit his potential this year, while Vicente Sanchez and Deshorn Brown (who led the team in goals the last two seasons) got the other votes. At the very least, we can all seem to agree that a forward will be the team leader, which is a good sign considering the Rapids had a bad tendency to let midfielders lead them in goals for a couple of years.
Why not go with Dillon Powers, really? Like Torres crushed the competition in the most goals category, three of us gave our vote to Powers for the most assists. Marcelo Sarvas and Juan Ramirez (!) got the other votes from us.
Most Likely to Breakout
Marlon Hairston was the favorite here, garnering three votes, while Gabriel Torres grabbed two. Interestingly, Dom Badji also snuck a vote in here after impressing at least one of us in the preseason.
Most Likely to Disappoint
This one was all over the map, just as it was last season. Votes came out for Zac MacMath, Deshorn Brown, Nick Labrocca and Marcelo Sarvas.
Check out the other parts of our Rapids Season Preview: