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Building a Winner: Re-examining the Moves that Built the Rapids

The Rapids are good this season. How again did this happen?

Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

Imagine this:

It's 2013.  The Colorado Rapids have just lost at Seattle Sounders 2-0 in the Western Conference Wild Card game and despite the frustrating loss at Century Link, optimism is high.   Super high.  The Rapids had just finished with the highest point total (51) and most wins in a season (14) that the club has ever had.  The Rapids were young, dynamic, exciting and Major League Soccer had taken notice of the Burgundy Boys and what was going on in Commerce City.

But in the last two years, things were bad.  So very, very bad.

And the mood going into 2016 was not very optimistic.  Many places, including us here at Burgundy Wave, felt that the Rapids were destined for dead last in the Western Conference standings.  But a funny thing happened from the end of the 2015 season to the start of the 2016 season: the Rapids developed an identity and learned how to play winning soccer.  So far in 2016 the Rapids have wins over LA Galaxy, Seattle Sounders and Sporting Kansas City (twice) to go along with just two losses.  The Rapids are 8-2-3 (27 points, 2.07 PPG) and are on a pace to get 70 points this season.

Now, I certainly do not think they will get to 70 points this season and I am not sure they win the Western Conference but I do think they are a playoff team that has a legitimate shot of winning MLS Cup and US Open Cup.

But how did all of this happen?  Was it as easy as signing Jermaine Jones?

No, not really.  There were a number of moves that the Rapids have made since the end of the 2013 season that have helped to shape the club and it's time to look back at them and see what happened and why many of the moves were good moves:

1)  Selling Deshorn Brown: this one pissed off a number of supporters as Brown had led the Rapids in goals in 2013 and 2014 and he was everything that the Rapids represented in that 2013 season:  young and exciting.  And he had this:

But Brown was considered surplus requirements and was sold to Vålerenga in the Norwegian first division after the first game of the 2015 season and people were pissed.  How could we sell Brown!  He was our future!  He was such a good Rapids player!  These were some of the things I heard when the move happened, but lets take a look at production when he was a Rapids player and since his move:

Club Years Appearances Goals
Colorado Rapids 2013-2015 62 20
Vålerenga 2015-2016 30 11

It's not like Brown is lighting it up in the Tippeligaen and his sale paved the way for the Rapids to get Kevin Doyle.  Verdict:  win for the Rapids

2)  Selling Shane O'Neill: this one was another moved that pissed off supporters as O'Neill was a Rapids Homegrown Player and was from Boulder.  He was someone that played hard and had featured in the Chipotle Homegrown game twice for the Rapids and seemed like a building block that the Rapids could build around.  But he was sold and despite the rumors swirling around (that he was a hothead and demanded to leave), it's clear that it was a good move.  Since leaving the Rapids last August he has been loaned out twice by his parent club Apollon Limassol and has yet to make an appearance for them.  His last action was earlier this year for League Two side Cambridge United where he played twice for the English club.  Verdict:  win for the Rapids as Bobby Burling is a better player than O'Neill

3)  Trading Chris Klute and drafting Axel Sjoberg: I know that people are super passionate about Klute because of his good seasons in Burgundy, but the question has to be asked:

Was his 2013 season a fluke and the regression shown in 2014 was the real Klute or was he mis managed by the Rapids?

From 2012 to 2014 Klute made 57 appearances but since his departure (to Columbus Crew SC and now Portland Timbers) he has made 21 appearances plus an additional game for Portland Timbers 2.  He seems to have found a now in Portland with 619 minutes this season, but is Sjoberg and upgrade over Klute?  The Rapids have always fancied big physical center backs and Klute was someone who played outside, so it's tough to compare the two players, so this is a case of a move that worked out for all parties.

4)  Moor and Irwin to Toronto FC: the two most controversial moves of this most recent off-season was to let Drew Moor sign with Toronto FC and trade Clint Irwin to the Reds a few weeks later.

Letting your Captain go and then trading your team MVP is never a popular decision, but let's look at this:

Goals Against Goals Against Average Shots Faced Saves
Clint Irwin 12 1.00 52 37
Zac MacMath 9 0.69 46 33

Irwin is having himself a pretty damn good year in Toronto and has helped to solidify a remade Reds defense that has surrendered 12 goals this season.  But here is the funny thing about MacMath.  Even with the two gaffs against D.C. United and Real Salt Lake, MacMath has been better than Irwin.  I know that is heresy to say that, but stats do not lie.  MacMath has been better.

And let's not forget that Tim Howard is on his way shortly.

Losing Moor was tough.  Really tough.  But when you look at the stats, the Rapids are better this season, defensively, then they were last season.  Now I am not saying that Moor was the problem last season.  Not at all.  But when you look at things, the Rapids are a better team since his departure.  Verdict:  a win for TFC getting Moor and Irwin and a win for the Rapids with a stronger defense and goalkeeping core.

A couple of general observations through all of these moves and the last three seasons:

1)  The pain of 2014 and 2015 are still there.   Winning 17 games over those two season has not completely left and it is OK to feel that way.

2)  Picking up Shkelzen Gashi, Jermaine Jones, Tim Howard, Marco Pappa and Mekeil Williams has been a good bit of business for the team.

3)  Trusting Burling and Marc Burch on the backline has been huge.  They may be older than what is expected in MLS but they bring a calmness and an awareness of how to play the game.

4)  The Front Office is getting it.  They are doing a better job of interacting with the fans and it is clear their moves have paid off.

So what are your thoughts Rapids fans?  Have these moves paid off?  Was the pain of 2014 and 2015 worth it for the success this season?  Can the Rapids keep it up?  Let us know in the comment sections below.