The Rapids are currently sitting at 21 of 28 players on their roster.*
As you probably know, the maximum roster is 28, although no more than 18 players can be dressed for a regular MLS game.** According to the newly released MLS CBA (which was really well broken down for the layman over at SounderAtHeart), only spots 1-20 count against the salary cap.
Those guys at spots 21-28 will generally cost the Rapids between $50,000 and $100,000. You need them for squad rotation; for depth in case of injury; for developing players you want to stash with the Charlotte Independence; and as your ‘diamond in the rough' dumpster dives. Kwadwo Poku made the NYCFC roster this way. So did James Riley and John Neeskens with the Rapids.
Last year, the Rapids had most of their SuperDraft picks trialing during pre-season- Dom Badji, Joe Greenspan, Matt Jeffrey, and Brandon Fricke (Axel Sjoberg was signed straight up before camp broke) . They also brought in a couple of USL fullbacks- Wes Knight and Ben Newnam, to round out the squad after they let Marvell Wynne go at the end of 2014. Also in camp were Francisco Flores, Quenton Westberg, Oscar Montoya, Pat Slogic, Billy Schuler, and Andrew Ribero. Grant Van DeCasteele and Carlos Alvarez, two players on the roster in 2014 but not extended offers at season's end, were brought back to try again. Finally, Benji Joya, a fringe player for the USMNT U23 team, joined the Rapids in late February for the Desert Diamond Cup.
Of those 14 players, only four were signed: Badji, Greenspan, Newnam and Alvarez. Badji played 15 games for the Rapids, scoring 2 goals. Greenspan played 4 games at center back and right back. Newnam and Alvarez were stashed in Charlotte. Newnam was recalled for one forgettable game against Red Bull New York.
I say all this to illustrate that the guys the Rapids have in camp have the odds against them of making the team - even the draftees - and even longer odds of contributing to the 2016 edition of the squad.
But I'm a big fan of the underdog. Most fans are. The idea that a guy can drive up to a pitch with his boots in his trunk, run his ass off, and then start a game flanked by Champions League players Andrea Pirlo, David Villa, and Frank Lampard is pure magic. RJ Allen was coaching a boys U10 team on Staten Island before he joined NYCFC.
Mike Grella, a journeyman player in the English 3rd and 4th division is a regular for RBNY now off of a trial. Miracles can happen.
So let's scrape together some trialist info and our current roster, and see what we know. The current squad includes:
GK (2): John Berner, Zac MacMath
DEF (7): Marc Burch, Bobby Burling, Marlon Hairston, Axel Sjoberg, Sean St. Ledger, Jared Watts, Mekeil Williams
MID (7): Micheal Azira, Sam Cronin, Marco Pappa, Zach Pfeffer, Dillon Powers, Dillon Serna
FWD (5): Dominique Badji, Caleb Calvert, Kevin Doyle, Shkelzen Gashi, Luis Solignac
ON LOAN: Juan Ramirez
UNSIGNED DRAFT PICKS (6): Emmanuel Appiah (No. 15), Dennis Castillo (No. 37), Chris Froschauer (No. 43), Javan Torre (No. 56), Bradley Kamdem (No. 58), John Manga (No. 63)
The Rapids played a South Korean first division team, Seongnam FC, in their first scrimmage in San Diego last week. Here's the announced lineup - one in each half of the match.
#Rapids96 2nd half team: MacMath, Burch, Torre, Keel, Hairston, Azira, Powers, Solignac, Appiah, Ownby, Doyle. Just underway— Colorado Rapids (@ColoradoRapids) February 4, 2016
#Rapids96 1st half team: Froschauer, Kamdem, Sjoberg, Burling, Castillo, Cronin, Watts, Badji, Ekra, Pfeffer, Calvert.— Colorado Rapids (@ColoradoRapids) February 4, 2016
And here's the breakdown of our current known trialists:
Chris Froschauer (GK)
Froschauer was the Big 10 Goalkeeper of the year for Ohio State in 2015, after transferring from Dayton in 2014. He was the Rapids first pick in the 3rd round. With only Zac MacMath and John Berner on the roster and a need for a third GK to stash in Charlotte, Froschauer's chances to make the team are pretty good. Who knows? If he shows well enough in camp, he may even pip John Berner for a locker in Commerce City instead of North Carolina.
Emmanuel Appiah (M)
Appiah is the Rapids first round pick from the 2016 MLS SuperDraft, going 15th. He's a Ghanaian midfielder from the University of Cincinnati who grew up in Ohio. He's got some skills, but being a first round pick in the SuperDraft is no guarantee of success - lots of first rounders never crack the first team. He projects, from what I've heard, as a central midfielder or a defensive mid. The challenge for Appiah is that he faces a logjam at d-mid on the Rapids: Cronin, Pfeffer, Azira, and maybe Powers or Watts are likely ahead of him on the depth chart. I think it's likely he'll make the team, but unlikely we'll see him get minutes until the Rapids put a team on the field in the fourth round of the US Open Cup.
Javan Torre (D)
Torre was another Rapids draftee, taken in the 3rd round as well. He played for perennial NCAA powerhouse UCLA in central defense. He grew up in Santa Monica, CA, and also came up in the LA Galaxy academy. At an athletic 6'2", 170 lbs, he could fill an important role as defensive depth, although with seven guys already on the roster, this might be a tough spot to grab.
Stephen Keel (D)
Keel was originally signed by the Colorado Rapids in 2006, and played with them through 2010. Keel also played on the 2011 Red Bull New York team that featured Tim Ream, Chris Albright, and Rafa Marquez on the backline. When Marquez wasn't hurt. Which was a lot. Keel played for FC Dallas in 2014, and sat out 2015 with a foot injury. Keel's played both central defender and fullback, but it looks like the Rapids played him as a CB last week. That versatility could be an asset. At 32 years old, he's no spring chicken. But Pablo Mastroeni likes his veteran defensive-type guys: see LaBrocca, Nick; Knight, Zat; and Mullan, Brian for evidence. I'd say Keel's got even odds to make the squad.
Brian Ownby (M)
Drafted in 2012 by the Houston Dynamo, Ownby played a handful of matches over three seasons there, mostly as a sub. In 496 MLS minutes, Keel has zero goals and two assists. Ownby spent 2016 with the Richmond Kickers of USL, scoring 5 goals and 14 assists before a shoulder injury shut him down in July. Richmond has re-signed him for 2016, pending his Rapids tryouts. I'd say odds for him with the Rapids are long, and being a starter for Richmond would probably be preferable to a reserve squad player for the Rapids, in my humble opinion.
Bradley Kamdem (D)
Kamdem was a late third-round pick for the Rapids in the 2016 SuperDraft. A defender for the UNLV Runnin' Rebels, Kamdem played in eleven of the Rebs twenty matches in 2015; in his Junior year of 2014, he started all of the Reb's 21 matches. Hmm. Kamdem is a native of Paris, France. He's 6'0". If he's got the speed to play outside back an an MLS level, he's got a shot at this roster, which has Marlon Hairston, Marc Burch, and now Mekeil Williams at fullback. But I'd say he's a longshot.
Yann Ekra (F)
Ekra is speedy winger-type guy, originally out of the Lyon youth system. Wikipedia says he used to room with Karim Benzema. So he's got that goin' for him. Which is nice. He's failed to stick with big time clubs like Lyon, or Hull City, or with the Philadelphia Union, and has been with Harrisburg City in USL lately. He signed a deal in December to be with our USL affiliate Charlotte Independence, with an opt-out to join an MLS side if a top-tier US team wants him. Ekra tore up USL last year with 13 goals and 13 assists. Against Seognam FC last week, he did this.
Which is pretty awesome.
I think he's a 50-50 shot to join the Rapids, because his skill set, passing, and speed make him a bit unique among our forwards. He's smaller and quicker than Solignac and Badji, and younger than Gashi and Doyle. It'd probably be best for all parties (#OneClub) to sign him to an MLS contract but then stash him back in USL, just in case.
John Manga (F)
Manga was the Rapids only pick of the fourth round in the 2016 SuperDraft. He's a 6'2" forward, also from University of Cincinnati like his buddy Emmanuel Appiah. His folks are Congolese. He scored 10 goals his Junior year, but only 2 his Senior year in 7 starts, while battling injury. He's a super longshot to make the team, based both on his lack of starts in 2015 and his position as a late-draft pick. The Rapids had three picks in the 2015 draft fourth round, and only signed one - Dom Badji - and he started. In 2014 the Rapids didn't sign either of their third or fourth round picks. There wasn't even a third or fourth round of the 2013 Superdraft, but the Rapids waived their second rounder without signing him. So call Manga a super longshot. I'll still be rooting for him. Manga didn't get any minutes in the game last Thursday. If he doesn't get into any pre-season games this week or next, I'd say he's probably not gonna stick.
Dennis Castillo (D)
Oops. I forgot to include Dennis Castillo. Darn.
Castillo started every game, all four years at Virginia Commonwealth University. He's a Costa Rican who played youth soccer for Deportivo Saprissa, a perennial force in CCL matches. He scored 17 goals as a defender in 80 games for VCU, playing center back, right back, and defensive midfield. The Rapids got him late in the second round of the 2016 SuperDraft. Topdrawersoccer.com pegged him in their last 'big board' as the 18th best overall player, so the Rapids getting him with the 37th pick was a good get. At 5'10", he probably doesn't have the size to play CB for Colorado, and the Rapids are thin at right back, so I think that's his spot in MLS. I'd say he's a very good chance to make the Rapids, and with only Marlon Hairston at the same position, he may even get a shot at starting. Good luck, kid.
The Trialists Next Chance
eight nine guys, plus any other surprises, next get a shot to shine Monday at 12 noon MST, when the Rapids take on USL side OC Blues in a scrimmage. Keep an eye on the Rapids twitter feed and Burgundy Wave for any updates or info.
If 2015 is any indication, there are certainly a few more players that will be invited to try out, or already have but haven't been publicized. The Rapids have been a bit opaque with training camp so far - a few pics and Vines, but no livestreams or detailed press releases. If last year is any indication, they'll become more forthcoming when the Desert Diamond Cup starts. But if you hear of any additional trialists, please add in the comments.
* Note: MLSSoccer.com still lists Ensign Joe Greenspan on the official roster as of Sunday. I have taken the liberty of removing him, since it was announced he'll be spending the 2016 season on an Arleigh Burke - class destroyer. Watch your head coming through those little bulkhead doors, Joe.
** The Rapids don't need to sign the full 28 spots. But they have in past years. Most teams fill out spots 24-28 with homegrown players, but the Rapids haven't signed a homegrown since Dillon Serna and Shane O'Neill were signed in 2012.