Holiday shopping is something to avoid at all costs. The malls with their massive crowds and demolition derby parking lots. The markup of buying that thing your really want for your wife but knowing that you’ll have to pay full retail. Pretending you like that sweater from your grandmother with beads and poof balls on it. Your kids getting a $50 gift, then playing with the box instead.
It’s more fun to virtually shop for expensive soccer players! So I’m going to break down the Rapids roster needs a little, and then throw out some ideas. Some will be interesting. Others will be insane and hypothetical. One might actually come true. Still, think of these more like ‘this is a position of need, this is the quality of player we might be able to afford’ type suggestions, not like ‘this is THE guy’ suggestions.
Come dream with me, fans. Like you will on Christmas morning when you wake up and think that that little box your dad put under the tree is actually the keys to a Tesla Model S.
Wanting an upgrade at GK and defense is like winning Powerball and still asking your sister to buy you a gift at the holidays. The league’s best defense doesn’t really need anything. We have the best keeper in MLS. And probably the best backup keeper in MLS. GK stats are pretty flaky and unreliable, but I include some below anyhow. C/O squawka.com.
These are the best GKs in MLS: Blake won keeper of the year, Frei won MLS Cup, and I thought Brian Rowe was spectacular all year. Tim Howard and Zac MacMath both had more clean sheets (equalized per 90 minutes played) and better throwing/passing accuracy than all three. Saves per goal is of debatable validity, but nonetheless it expresses a key fact: keepers need to get their mitts on a ball and keep it out of the net, and Howard and MacMath are among the best.
I won’t go on a riff again about the Rapids need to sell high on MacMath. Yeah I know that Timmy will likely be hurt for at least the first month of the 2017 MLS season, but MacMath’s value will not get higher. Selling him over the summer is a good option though if you want to insure yourself to start 2017.
At your third spot, the Rapids have John Berner, who has been solid for Charlotte the past two seasons, and also have an Academy claim on Andrew Epstein, starting keeper for the two-time national Champion Stanford Cardinal. Epstein might be signed this year, or next year after he graduates. But we don’t really need him yet. So, um, we’re fine at GK.
Buy or Sell?
Sell MacMath, but not till summer.
Position: Central Defense
Central Defense is nearly a carbon copy of GK. The Rapids had a Defender of the Year finalist in Axel Sjoberg. Jared Watts had a fantastic year alongside the big Swede. It doesn’t get much better than losing your MLS All-Star CB and club talisman Drew Moor and actually coming back better the year after. Backup Bobby Burling is experienced and split the past two seasons with Watts at CB, providing quality at depth.
Lucky for the Rapids, they didn’t need much else. Eric Miller filled in in a pinch at CB once (twice?), but the Rapids got 31 starts from Sjoberg, 21 from Watts, and 16 from Burling. Sean St Ledger wasn’t needed, which is good, because he semingly never recovered from a knee injury that came at the conclusion of his 2015 season. Joseph Greenspan wasn’t needed either, which is why he was shipped to Minnesota for a draft pick.
The Rapids need to reload a backup CB, and ideally also put in someone that could take over the position down the road in the event the Rapids sustain an injury. Or if the Rapids sell high on a player with aspirations at a higher league. Who may have umlauts in his name.
Buy or Sell?
Buy a backup, maybe also a young apprentice CB. But if you go luxury, then you can push Watts back to the bench and turn a great defense into a world class defense.
Who? Luxury Shopping
Gonzalo Jara is one of the Chilean national team’s starting CB, and went from Mainz 05 in 2015 to Chile’s top team, Universidad, in 2016. He may not be an elite Bundesliga player, but he could discover whether he has what it takes to be a top CB in MLS.
Pablo Aguilar plays CB for Liga MX’s Club America, but he’s 29 and America has a deep, deep, academy, so selling might be good business. He’d be a DP center back, and that is pretty rare in MLS - I think only Matt Besler ticks that box. But he also has several years with one of Mexico’s most popular clubs. He’d sell a lot of jerseys and season tickets in Colorado.
Francisco Calvo starts for Saprissa and the Costa Rican National Team. He’s young (24), talented (17 caps for a solid CONCACAF national team) and plays on a national team backline that already has three players in MLS.
Who? Bargain Shopping
The LA Galaxy’s Leonardo is available via the re-entry draft. He had some good games for them at the tail end of 2015 before becoming a reserve player for LA, getting in only 4 games this season. Nuno Coehlo and Boyd Okwuonu, are decent defenders that would come cheap - they were both waived. Both also have far too many vowels in their last names. Jamison Olave, Zach Scott, and former Rapid Nat Borchers are all Free Agents. They’re all 35+ years old, and Borchers is rehabbing an injury. But for $80K or so, any of them would make good insurance policies.
Lastly, the Rapids could hope to get something in the SuperDraft. If they succeed in signing Rapids Academy product and DU center back Kortne Ford as a Homegrown Player, his salary wouldn’t count against the cap. Free is as good a bargain as it gets.
Marc Burch rebounded from a poor 2015 to become a critical cog at one of the MLS’ hardest-to-fill positions of Left Back. And Eric Miller was also an above-average MLS fullback. Could the Rapids upgrade here? Claro que sí - of course. It isn’t likely, but we’ll explore it. At the backup spots, the Rapids have 2016 SuperDraft selection Dennis Castillo and Trinidad and Tobago international Mekiel Williams, who gets forward well and led all defenders with 4 assists, and can play either left or right back comfortably. But Pablo Mastroeni seemed to prefer Eric Miller, so Williams seems like a luxury item.
Buy or Sell?
Sell on Williams, if someone in MLS wants a starting-caliber fullback. Buy at leftback: Marc Burch might be fantastic, but he also turns 33 in May.
Who? Luxury Shopping
Miguel Layun is Mexico’s starting left back, and he plays like a wingback in terms of his speed and offensive ability. Every fan of El Tri knows his name: the Rapids would need to move the home opener to Mile High to accommodate all the ticket sales, and they’d sell every one of it’s 76,125 seats. (How freakin’ cool would that be?) He’s 28 and he plays for Porto. But Porto is the mostedest sellin’est team in Europe. Money talks. He last sold for a $7 million transfer fee, according to transfermarkt.
This is the Tesla-under-the-tree of transfer wishes.
Frank Fabra has 10 caps for Colombia at left back, and plays for Boca Juniors in Argentina. Boca at this point is the English Premier League’s U23 club, basically. Fabra is 24 years old, so he won’t be cheap and as a relatively unknown left back not-from-Mexico or the USMNT, he won’t sell seats, but he’d likely be great.
Who? Bargain Shopping
Jordan Stewart and Abdoulie Mansally are both available via re-entry. Stewart is 35 years old; 2017 would be his 18th years as a footballer, and he’s still got it, at least enough to be bench insurance. DaMarcus Beasley is also available as a free agent, but for the price and considering his age, he’s a very modest upgrade over Marc Burch.
Realistically, left back is the hardest position, and one of the most important positions, for any soccer team in the world to develop. Colorado would be smart to spend a pick or two in the SuperDraft on left back, or bring up Academy products Sam Raben or Quentin Pearson to apprentice at the position. One name for the draft , floated by Travis Clark from TopDrawerSoccer.com, is Matej Dekovic of UNC Charlotte.
Stay tuned to later in the week when we evaluate midfielders and forwards. If you’d like to include your own fever-dream fantasy signings based on your own wide ranging knowledge of the transfer market as gleaned from databases like Football Manager, FIFA17, or your EPL Saturday Morning viewing, tells us what Christmas presents you’d like the Rapids to leave you under the tree for 2017.