All was quiet Thursday night on deadline day, and so it was that I assumed the Colorado Rapids were just going to leave well enough alone, see out this disappointing campaign, and come back next year with a fresh plan.
But Friday the Rapids announced five moves:
3) Rapids sell Shane O'Neill to Apollon Limassol
5) Rapids release Ben Newnam
OK, nobody really cares about those last two moves right now.
First, Shane O’Neill. Everybody’s been expected this for a while I think: it was clear that the Rapids were not going to play O’Neill. The reasons remain a mystery as to what was going on with O’Neill this year. Although he started the first two matches of the year, his appearances became fewer and further between. As I said in the mid-season review, his defense wasn't totally inadequate, although his passing certainly was. I could speculate that Pablo Mastroeni saw a lack of sharpness or effort in training. Or that perhaps, Bobby Burling, Drew Moor, and Axel Sjoberg (and, eventually, even Jared Watts) were simply better than him.
That last part: O’Neill was dropped from the lineup for Jared Watts, who had a few good games, but a few bad ones too. Watts missed a ball in the air against LA Galaxy that resulted in a goal, and was bailed out a few times in that match too. Overall, most fans are unconvinced about whether Watts is a legitimate starting CB in MLS. And based on the moves today, so are the Rapids. And yet: he was still preferable over O’Neill.
So it was probably time for Shane to move on. I wouldn’t wish the Cypriot league on anyone though: in MLS, the worst thing that happens if you kick a call is that the twitterati will blow up.
Let’s hope Shane can play back into form and make a triumphant return from his island exile. That’s a Napoleon joke. Google it.
It’s also a moment of sadness for Rapids fans who saw 2012 and 2013 as the era of the ‘RapKids’; O’Neill, Serna, and Powers taking over the club. I think we can call that era officially dead.
But based on the struggles of the back line in the past few games, and the varied lineups we’ve seen there, an addition of a very good central defender seemed to be a good idea for the Rapids. The options out of the back have all shown some signs of struggle recently: James Riley has been very beatable throughout the season; Watts looks shaky at times; Michael Harrington got injured and lost his starting spot; and Axel Sjoberg hasn’t been healthy enough to start either. Only Burling and Moor were reliable constants on the score sheet each week. So a new CB seemed like a good idea. So are Maynor Figueroa and Sean St. James the right moves to right the Rapids ship? The answer seems to be: no.
On the face of things, to this non-scout, these look like desperation moves. Each player is on the older side of things: Figueroa is 32 years old, St. Ledger is 30. Each player was waived by their previous side. Figueroa barely played last season, getting into three games for Hull City and six games on loan at Championship side Wigan. St. Ledger paired with Aurelien Collin much of the season, and turned in 4 clean sheets in the 14 matches he started, which is good! But he was waived on August 1 for a ‘serious breach of club policy’, which is bad!
More importantly, these aren’t big money signings on par with the moves NYCFC, LA Galaxy, and the Montreal Impact made during the secondary transfer window. They’re free agent signings of released players who weren’t high on anyone else’s shopping list. This looks like dumpster-diving.
And, I guess, that’s to be expected. There aren’t a lot of moves the Rapids could make at this late stage that will get us into the playoffs. I don’t know that the acquisition of Lionel Messi or Eden Hazard gets us into the playoffs at this point, although that’d be awesome. But I would rather see the Rapids promote someone from the Development academy, or acquire a younger player that is likely to be on the team in 2016, or even get a defender on loan from Arsenal’s U-23’s, then slot in two older rentals to play out the string. Figueroa and St. Ledger are probably 50-1 shots to be on this roster next season. It might even be that the Rapids are just an opportunity for these two defensive cast-offs to audition their wares for another team: these last few games with Colorado serve as a test of whether either has anything left in the tank to be a useful cog in another team's machine. In short, this feels eerily reminiscent of the Zat Knight signing late last season. [Shudder.]
I hope I’m wrong. I’ll root for both of these defenders to use this an opportunity to show that they’re first rate defenders; that Orlando and Hull were wrong for casting them off. As a man of faith, I believe in the power of redemption. I believe people can turn things around. I believe in withholding judgement and giving folks a second chance.
But I’m also not a schmuck. The Rapids are probably done for the year. It’s painful to say, and I’m still going to be out at DSGP a bunch in the next two months. But I’m not expecting much. Not from these new players, and not from the club.