With half the season gone, the Colorado Rapids have shocked the world. Roundly picked to finish between 7th and 10th in the Western Conference, the burgundy boys have come rolling into the halfway mark of the year (ok, one game past halfway) with 34 points. They sit second in the Western Conference as well as second in the Supporters Shield race, with an unbelievable record of 9-7-2 (WTL). Even more incredible, the team is in the midst of a 13 game unbeaten streak in league play, going all the way back to April 9th.
With that in mind, here are a couple of mid-season superlatives for Commerce City's finest.
Best Defender (includes defense and d-mids)
Mile High: Micheal Azira
South Stands: Micheal Azira
What a beast! His accuracy with his passes, his leadership, his motor and pace. He's pretty close to being our mid-season MVP, but I have someone in front of him.
Abbie Mood: Axel Sjöberg.
He can gallop to just about anywhere in the back third in half the time it takes anyone else, and he barely has to jump at all to get above the crowd to defend on corners.
John Rosch: Sam Cronin and Micheal Azira
With all due respect to the backline, which certainly has been solid, Cronin and Azira have been the reason for the solid defensive numbers. They have formed a great partnership that anchors a league best defense.
Rapids Rabbi: Axel Sjöberg
Axel has been the lynch pin that holds the back line together. He kills everything in the air (#SwedishMissleDefense), essentially taking the long ball and the cross away from most teams; his 88 clearances puts him 6th in MLS. His 14 blocks also put him 6th. And he's surprisingly fast for a big man. This team's 2016 success is as much a product of the Sophomore's emergence with the club as it is a function of the new signings that have come into the team.
Marty McG: Micheal Azira
Azira has excelled in the defensive midfield role Pablo Mastroeni assigned him with this season. His ability to muck up the midfield during our opponent's attacking movements is invaluable to a Rapids team allowing only 11 shots per game. He has also been an omnipresent workhorse for the Rapids this season, logging 1612 out of a possible 1620 minutes. He does not contribute much offensively besides serving as the fulcrum between the back four and the attacking midfielders, but his multitude of defensive contributions and heady play during opposing counter attacks deserves consideration for Rapids best defensive player.
Mile High: Dillon Serna vs Sporting Kansas City, May 11
South Stands: Marco Pappa's goal vs. LA Galaxy at DSGP at the death, March 12
The technical aspect of this goal was brilliant, sure. It took advantage of a poor clearance by the Galaxy defender, yes. But that goal opened the door to provide hope for the season to come. It energized the team and the fan base.
Abbie Mood: Marco Pappa's goal in the 95th minute in the home opener vs. LA, March 12
It was a gorgeous goal that set the tone for the rest of the season. And it's always fun to rile up Bruce Arena.
John Rosch: Axel Sjoberg v Vancouver, July 11
I know it is fresh in everyone's mind but this goal showed that even down a man this team was never going to give in or give up. This is a trait that has been missing from this team since 2010 and it is nice to see it back.
Rapids Rabbi: Kevin Doyle vs Vancouver, July 11
This one steals my heart because it's a team goal: Cronin to Pappa to Gashi to Doyle. I love it when a plan comes together.
Marty McG: Dillon Serna vs SKC on May 11
I wanted to give the nod to Luis Solignac's first goal of the season just because that assist from Pappa deserves any and all recognition it can get. I have to go with Serna's solo effort against SKC. In the 76th minute of a 0-0 contest, Mastroeni sent on Serna in an attempt to galvanize the Rapids offense. He needed all of two minutes to help decide the game with an individual effort from twenty-two yards out that found the bottom right corner. The game ended 1-0, with Serna's individual moment of brilliance the deciding factor.
Biggest Surprise (player or event)
Mile High: Rapids at top of supporters shield most of first half.
South Stands: Zac MacMath.
Only Tim Howard could send Z-Mac to the bench. He leads all MLS goalkeepers in fewest goals allowed. He struggled in the past, and struggled early. I thought he would disintegrate with the advent of Howard's arrival. Nope. He dug in and was fantastic. I wish him all the best.
Abbie Mood: Jared Watts is the biggest surprise for me.
Last season I thought he was mediocre, but he's really been killing it lately. I've been super impressed with his play over the last few games. That and the Rapids went from being one of the worst teams in the league to the best team in the league. That's a pretty big surprise.
John Rosch: Rapids FO Making Moves
The Rapids have never been a destination in MLS as they are often overshadowed by the bigger clubs. But this off-season they have acquired two huge names in American soccer and made several other savvy moves to improve the roster with the addition of Azira, Shkelzen Gashi and Marco Pappa.
Rapids Rabbi: The FO gets Jermaine Jones Jr.
I wildly suggested the Rapids go out and drop serious cash on Jermaine Jones.
Then, they actually did it.
Back when the transfer was just a wild idea, JJ thought it was funny and tweeted at me (!).
But when his agent called with the terms: one year, $650,000; he signed on the dotted line. And the club is a worst-to-first (or second) wunderkind. Danke Schoen to the FO and to Jermaine.
Marty McG: The Rapids.
Worst to first, baby. Worst to first.
Mile High: Zac MacMath
South Stands: Jermaine Jones
His presence, leadership, and fire--not to mention those wonderful goals he's scored--have made him the most valuable player in the truest sense of the term.
Abbie Mood: Sam Cronin
I have a whole article in mind about this guy, but let's just say he's the unsung hero of the Rapids. He's the guy that controls the tempo and keep everyone on the same page. Yes, that's his job, but he does it well.
John Rosch: Micheal Azira
Sure, he doesn't have the stats that other players have. And you could make a strong argument for Jermaine Jones, Zac MacMath, Marc Burch or Sjoberg, but for my money Azira is the MVP. Ask yourself: where would we be without him in the lineup? He is a midfield destroyer that this team needed and is not afraid to do the little things to make this team better. For my money, it's Azira.
Rapids Rabbi: Marco Pappa*
He's generated a ton of offense: in only 574 minutes, sixteenth most on the team, he's generated 20 key-passes; third most on the team; and 4 assists; second-most on the team. To use one of my favorite phrases, Marco Pappa is the straw that stirs the drink. Imagine how good we'll be with Pappa in the lineup full-time, alongside Jones, Gashi, and Doyle; that's something that has yet to happen this season.
(* In reality, I think Axel Sjoberg. But I already gave him Best Defender, and I like to spread the love around.)
Marty McG: Axel Sjoberg
It may seem strange to give Midseason MVP to defensive player who isn't my "best defensive player," but I'm going to ignore the award-giving social constructs and do it anyway. Sjoberg has been the best player from our back four, at the most important position in a back four, on the best defensive team in MLS. His poise and positioning has helped the Rapids maintain their defensive shape and structure more often than not this season, and his presence on set pieces on either side of the ball demands reckoning from every team we play. If he isn't given an All-Star nod by Sunday evening, I'll be submitting a strongly worded Facebook on every MLS sponsored page I can find. You can be sure of that.
B-Wave fans, please add your two-cents. Who do you think is defender of the year-to-date? You favorite goal? Biggest surprise? Midseason MVP? Give us your opinions in the comments, and if you've read B-Wave but never made a login to comment, do it! It only takes a a minute. And these things are important, #AllTakesMatter.