The Colorado Rapids have about a month before their first official game in Major League Soccer for the 2016 season and for the Rapids, and head coach Pablo Mastroeni, these are important times. They simply cannot afford a slow start and if they find themselves at the bottom of the table (or near it) before the Copa America Centenario break in June, wholesale changes could be on their way.
But how do the Rapids avoid the worse case scenario? Is there a magic formula that will suddenly make the Rapids contenders as this article suggests? And while the Rapids *could* be poised for a dramatic turnaround, there are still a lot of things that must go well for the Rapids to contend:
1) Pablo has to get the formation right (based on the personnel he has).
2) Pablo cannot bunker and play defense every game. Which is still what I think he does.
3) Pablo has to be willing to take risks as if his job is not on the line.
The predicted formation (assuming Pablo Mastroeni continues his 4-2-3-1):
Starter: Zac MacMath
Backups: John Berner, Chris Froschauer **
Thoughts: MacMath is the unquestioned starter in this group and should be for the totality of the 2016 season, but I still believe that if the price is right, the Rapids will go after Tim Howard as this summer. I do not think that this is a knock on MacMath, but more of a belief that Howard can provide and upgrade and more importantly put butts in the seats. Berner looks to be the #2 keeper going into the season with Froschauer possibly making his way to Charlotte.
Starters: Mekeil Williams, Sean St. Ledger, Axel Sjoberg, Marlon Hairston
Backups: Marc Burch, Bobby Burling, Dennis Castillo **, Joseph Greenspan, Bradley Kamdem **, Jared Watts
Thoughts: Danger Will Robinson! The defense is a problem area right now for the Rapids and they are very thin along the backline. Greenspan is on Naval duty and it is unclear how much he will be available to the Rapids and Hairston has started all of three games at right back. Watts is a converted defensive midfielder and Burch played all of eight games in 2015. And if both Castillo and Kamdem sign, this is a highly inexperienced group. I *think* at this point, the Rapids are going to roll the dice with this backline, and perhaps everything works out fine, but this is a concern going into 2016 if things stay the same.
Starters: Sam Cronin and Dillon Powers
Backups: Jared Watts, Micheal Azira, Emmanuel Appiah **
Thoughts: Wow. For all of the grief that Pablo Mastroeni gets about his defensive midfielders....he is actually thin in this area. Cronin is his only recognized D-Mid and the indications are that Powers will be moved back there as well (which actually makes a ton of sense). But after that the Rapids are thin. Very thin. Last season they had Nick LaBrocca, Marcelo Sarvas and Lucas Pittinari who could start as a D-Mid, but this season (up to now) they look to be rolling the dice with far less people.
And this is OK.
Look, the Rapids get a lot of shit (and rightfully so) about their defensive posture. In one game last year they started 8 defensive minded players. But having less D-Mid's on the roster at least suggests that there is some thinking that they may look at being more offensive minded. Maybe.
Starters: Dillon Serna, Shkëlzen Gashi, Marco Pappa
Backups: Realistically, the rest of the team that is not a defender.
Thoughts: OK...so the entire team is not a backup midfielder. But with the way that Pablo Mastroeni plays, it is a reasonable thing to say. In addition to Serna, Gashi and Pappa, the Rapids also have a hell of a lot of players that can play, and will be asked to play in the midfield. Joseph Greenspan was used as a striker last year, so anything is possible. I do think Zach Pfeffer has a role to play here and he is one I would look out for.
Starter: Kevin Doyle
Backups: Luis Solignac, Dominique Badji, Caleb Calvert, Conor Doyle, Javan Torre **, John Manga **
Thoughts: So this is an area that makes you go hmmmm. The Rapids actually have some good players here but I am not sure that the system that is being run in Colorado suits them. If you assume that Pablo is going to run a 4-2-3-1, then the need for this many forwards is muted. And based on this list I have to wonder if Badji and Calvert will be making a return to Charlotte Independence.
But, and I have to say this, I really want Calvert to stay with the Rapids this year to show what he has. I suspect he will be on his way to North Carolina though. The X factor here is what do the Rapids do with Conor Doyle and Luis Solignac. Neither player has lit it up in MLS, but Conor Doyle seems to have more upside than Solignac.
So what does this all mean? Ultimately not much if the Rapids do not come together as a team and play good soccer. At the end of the day, all the talent in the world means nothing if the coaching staff cannot direct those towards the goal of making the playoffs. And that, despite some improvements with the team, makes me wonder how this season will go.
Literally, it all hedges on the job that Pablo Mastroeni can do. Or can't do. And until proven otherwise, this is a big time worry for the Rapids.
**A 2016 SuperDraft Pick--NOT CURRENTLY SIGNED