Jared Watts had a breakout year at center back for the Rapids. After trying to fit in in 2014 and 2015 as a defensive midfielder, Watts established himself as the starting CB alongside Axel Sjoberg, and was consistently very good throughout the year. His passing out of the back was excellent, and his speed, technical ability, and emergency tackling helped to form a critical element in Colorado’s league-best defense.
So why did the Rapids leave him exposed? Here’s our list:
It came as a surprise to me that Marlon Hairston was no longer considered an automatically protected Generation Adidas player, so that messed up my predicted list for protected/unprotected Rapids. It also forced us to protect one more player than we otherwise would need to (obviously).
Four players on the ‘protected’ list strike me as more expendable than Jared Watts: Dillon Powers, Zac MacMath, Kevin Doyle, and Micheal Azira. Powers expressed interest in departing for Europe before this season, and has struggled to really etch himself a permanent position for the Rapids. He played as the central attacking midfielder when Jermaine Jones was hurt, and, as always, looked ok at the spot. He shifted occasionally back to defensive midfielder, but Pablo Mastroeni clearly preferred to start the tandem of Azira and Sam Cronin there. The team likely will get a creative central midfield presence in the offseason, which would likely push Powers back to the bench. Is a starting center back more expendable than a backup midfielder?
Tim Howard is our starting goalkeeper; having the very talented Zac MacMath as a backup is a luxury that strikes me as both excessive and unfair to MacMath. He deserves to start in this league, and the Rapids could pick up an experienced, affordable, young backup for the 5-10 games a year they’d need him. Yes, I know Tim is hurt, and that factors into it all, but I still believe in #FreeMacMath, for the kid’s own good.
Kevin Doyle, despite recently costing the team cash in the form of TAM which was used to pay down his DP-level salary to a non-DP level, is expendable, as an MLS striker thats only scored 12 total goals in 50 MLS games. Moreover, is he really likely to be selected by either Minnesota or Atlanta? He’s expensive, underperforming, and not the kind of signing that will instill confidence in potential season ticket buyers. He’s not flashy or productive enough. Why not leave him unprotected, knowing that odds are good he comes back to you?
And Azira, for all that he brought defensively to the team, is both unlikely to be selected and replaceable even if he was. There are other d-mids that probably could offer equal defending and perhaps better passing. Azira is a fine passer, but he tends towards short, safe balls. He’s also hard to dispossess, but perhaps I don’t value that stat as much as our Front Office does.
So what might be the reason the Rapids left Watts exposed? Here’s some blind guesses.
1. They are confident that the best tandem at back is Axel Sjoberg/Bobby Burling.
The 32- year old 6’5” Burling started 16 games in 2016 for Colorado, and was nearly every bit as good for the Rapids as Watts. The Rapids may have been gambling that, in the event Watts is taken, Burling will do just fine there. I think it’s a downgrade, and Watts at 25 years old is a player that is on the upward trajectory of his career, but it is a not-unreasonable approach.
2. If they need to, Colorado can add a defender in the transfer window.
Padraig Smith and Paul Bravo have lists of players they’ve been studying, from the Spanish third division and Norwegian League to South America and beyond. There are certainly center backs on that list. If the clubs have been spoken with, then the deals are already most of the way to being made. Perhaps the reason the Rapids are letting Watts go is that they think they’ll be upgrading at the position in the next month. Then again, there is the old aphorism of ‘a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.’
3. The Rapids are going to give the CB position to Kortne Ford.
Ford was a star for Denver University this season. He still has a year of collegiate eligibility, but with DU’s stellar run to the College Cup Final Four, there may not be much left for Ford to prove at the college level. He’s an academy product, so the Rapids can bring him onto the senior team right now, if Ford is keen, and the Denver Post’s Daniel Boniface has reported that at least the Rapids are ready to see him with the senior club.
One question Ford may have had is if he was going to get to actually play for the Rapids, or simply ride the pine. Despite the fact that paychecks are nice, Ford potentially is making a choice between starting for a team in 2017 that can make another run at a National Championship, and shuttling between the bench and the USL squad in Charlotte all year. But if the Rapids clear some space at CB and promise to give Ford a chance at being the Rapids everyday CB, well, he might leave school early. It’s a risk, but everything in roster building is.
It will be a few weeks until all of this shakes itself out. Whatever the outcome, I for one will be a little sad to see Jared Watts go, if he does get picked in the expansion draft. But hey, we’ll always have this priceless moment: