It's gonna be another one of those seasons. A season hasn't gone how we've expected it to since... actually, has a Colorado Rapids season ever gone the way we expected it to? The 2010 Rapids were supposed to be bottom feeders, not cup contenders. In 2011, they were supposed to be gunning for an improvement and a repeat of cup contention, and ended up wetting the proverbial bed. 2012 was supposed to bring a new style of attacking brilliance, and instead we got one of the worst seasons in team history... you get the idea.
This year is no different than the others in that we might have some idea of what to expect, but we'll be damned if we can give anything resembling an informed prediction. The Rapids this year are meant to be a team still on the downslope, just like they were after the 2012 season in Oscar Pareja's second season with the team. That team managed to reboot the entire roster in an off-season and the second-year coach grew enough to lead his team to a surprising playoff berth. All of those pieces for such a repeat are in place, but can the Rapids pull that sort of magic out of their hats after a season arguably even more disappointing than the 2012 campaign?
We'll just say that expectations are much lower than last season's were.
Earlier in the week, I put out a poll asking Rapids fans where they expected the team to finish in the Western Conference this season. Early returns are, to say the least, not particularly optimistic. Last season, our poll gave answers ranging all over the table, with some people even suggesting a shot at the Supporter's Shield was possible after the 2013 season. As always, though, the previous season can tend to taint the prospect of a future one, and Rapids fans voted no higher than mid-table this time around.
The poll as of this writing saw 83 votes cast, with nearly all of them in the bottom half of the table, and the vast majority of them either pegging the Rapids as a very low playoff contender or as just barely missing out of the playoffs. A whopping 72% of the votes cast were for 5th-7th place. And unlike last year, the optimism isn't even there enough for a single person to have thrown a vote in for 1st or 2nd place. (There were two people who thought they could stretch their way to third, however!)
Everyone Else's Expectations
If Colorado Rapids fans are guarded, yet optimistic about a potential playoff spot for this team, just about everyone else in MLS is exactly the opposite. After last season, the Rapids are being widely predicted for a bottom-four spot in the Western Conference by just about everyone who has a preview out there.
Last season, the folks at Sports Illustrated gave Pablo Mastroeni's Rapids the benefit of the doubt. It doesn't look like they feel the same way this time. All four of their pundits predicted Colorado would miss the playoffs, though three of the four at least had the Rapids in seventh place rather than at the very bottom.
ProSoccerTalk felt the same way, with every single one of their six writers picking the Rapids out of the playoff picture. Four of them have the Rapids eighth or worse. Interestingly, only one of them also has Pablo Mastroeni listed as his likely first coach fired this season.
The same as last season, Bovada has the Colorado Rapids' odds of winning the MLS Cup near the bottom of the league at 50/1.
Best Case Scenario
It's not so outlandish to think that everything could click for this team.
Several players playing up a bit more to their talent levels and most of the new faces playing to the talent levels we already know they're at would be all it would take to turn a bunch of their losses from last year into ties and a bunch of their ties into wins. Simple stuff: Deshorn Brown turns from a 10-goal a year striker to a 12-15-goal a year striker. Gabriel Torres finally breaks the wall he hit last year and scores 8-10 of his own. Guys like Marcelo Sarvas and Micheal Harrington playing the soccer we all know they can play, but in burgundy now.
More importantly that that, though: in the best case scenario, Pablo Mastroeni has his breakthrough as a coach, reaching the same level of coaching awareness that Oscar Pareja reached in his second season. Mastroeni's line-ups become more consistent and his tactics remain in tune with the system the team was using in preseason. It's likely not going to be a shift to coaching genius, but consistency and trust in his best players were the things lacking the most last year in his coaching, and a simple addition of those two elements would transform him from a bad coach into, at the very least, a mediocre one.
That's likely the best case scenario we can expect from a second-year man like Pablo, and it, along with the players listed above doing what they can do, could even be enough to propel this undeniably talented team as high as 3rd in the West. Even in the wildest dreams of Rapids supporters, a Shield run is never going to happen, but a bit of luck and this team may surprise a lot of people.
Worst Case Scenario
In the worst case scenario, it's a very simple equation: Pablo turns out to be the dud of a coaching prospect that he looked throughout all of last season. Instead of improving, he continues to stick with the stubborn ways that slowly degraded the 2014 season: playing players out of position, changing formations at a whim, throwing crap at a wall to see what sticks, and generally playing unappealing soccer in every way he can think of to milk points out of his team.
On the player side, injuries hitting 2011-levels of hard would quickly put a lot of the still-raw names like Grant Van de Casteele and Jared Watts back on the chopping block, revealing the third-string of the team is still mostly unknown youngsters who won't win many games for themselves. Some of the new guys don't live up to their previous expectations: Sarvas begins to show his age, for instance. The South American signings go bust and they're forced to try and shuffle line-ups again to search for elusive points.
It's nearly impossible to assume that the Rapids will end up with fewer points or with more losses than last season because of the uptick in talent that this 2015 squad has -- even the most pessimistic Rapids fan would have to admit that the 2015 Rapids on paper are far superior to the team that gave Nick Labrocca 2400 minutes -- but there's still plenty of chances for the Rapids to bungle this season up and end up comfortably out of the playoff spots by the time October hits.
Burgundy Wave Predictions
Just like last season, I asked Burgundy Wave's contributors to give me their thoughts on how they feel the season is going to go. Their answers are, as expected, mostly lower in the table, but with a bit of a mix of pessimism and optimism. Interestingly, only one of us picked the Rapids to finish outside the playoffs. (Damnit, Richard!)
Chris "UZ" White
13-11-10 (49 points), 6th in West
I believed in Oscar Pareja, and I believe in Pablo Mastroeni. It will take only a few small tweaks to his coaching game to take him to a level where he's at least not losing games on his own, which was easily the team's biggest issue last year. On paper this may legitimately be one of the most talented Rapids teams of all time. Things may not click in 2015, but I expect them to do well enough to keep MLS watching them as a team for the future, just as they were looking to be before Oscar Pareja blew the roof off and left. No trophies this year, but playoffs? I think so.
12-9-13 (49 points), 6th in West
The Rapids will return to the playoffs as they finally discover what the "Pablo Way" is. The team has a solid young core and they will gel together in July and make their run in August through October and clinch on the last day. There are concerns about this team, but it stems more from the inexperience of the head coach and not necessarily the players. Assuming that the Rapids come together as a team and Pablo improves as a coach, playoffs are quite realistic.
13-10-11 (50 points), 5th in West
I see us making a surprise run for the playoffs. Our defense is better, our midfield is shorn up. If Torres and Badji get time together, with Sanchez' and Powers service (especially the 2013 Powers), plus a consistent starting XI, they'll surprise some folks.
12-9-13 (49 points), 6th in West
The Rapids surprise a lot of people with success in the 4-2-3-1. New players Lucas Pittinari, Marcelo Sarvas and Dom Badji hold possession and pass much better than the 2014 Rapids did. Gaby Torres is reincarnated as the scoring threat we all dreamt of in 2013. Watts and Sjoberg, paired with the ever-steady Shane O'Neill, do an admirable job of holding the fort on the back line until Drew Moor returns. It takes a few weeks to gel, but the Rapids surge to the final playoff spot down the October stretch run. We lose the Rocky Mountain cup (again), but the Rapids get their revenge as RSL misses the playoffs.
10-11-13 (43 points), 7th in West
I think the Rapids finish outside a playoff spot, but have a respectable 43 points, given their awful season last year. It could take the team a month to get going, but Mastroeni's men start getting some points in the springs/early summer. However, down the stretch, the Western Conference big guns are too tough to beat, and the Rapids finish lower mid-table outside of a playoff spot.
Well, not much more we can say. The new CBA has been agreed upon and there will be Colorado Rapids soccer kicking off tomorrow. Even if nobody can agree quite what to expect, the 20th season of both Rapids and Major League Soccer is going to be a fun one, that's for certain. Go Rapids!
Check out the other parts of our Rapids Season Preview: