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What can the Colorado Rapids do to score more goals in 2017?

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Fans are expecting to see more goals this year. What needs to change?

MLS: Playoffs-Los Angeles Galaxy at Colorado Rapids Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The Colorado Rapids enter the 2017 season in an interesting position coming off a tremendous 2016 season: with expectation. Going into last season we were all just hoping that they did not finish dead last in the table. Sure they made some big signings and all, but the outlook looked grim.

And then 2016 happened. The team finished second in the Western Conference with a 15-6-13 record (58 points), qualified for the 2017 CONCACAF Champions League and made it all the way to the Western Conference Finals.

Not too shabby overall.

But there were some warning signs that should cause some heartburn for Rapids fans going into the 2017 season, mainly, where are the goals going to come from? With the news that John Spencer might not be returning to the Rapids there should/could be concern right now. And yes, there also is talk that Alan Gordon could be signing with the Rapids, but at 35, how much does he have left in the tank?

So where are the goals going to come from?

The Rapids have never been a high scoring team, and they have not scored more than 45 goals in a season since 1998 (which they have only accomplished that twice in their entire history). The Burgundy Boys will never be a team that lights up the scoreboard, but if they could have had a bit more of a killer instinct in front of the goal, there is no reason that they should not have hoisted MLS Cup.

But what can the Rapids do to fix the issue?

Two things:

1. Different Personnel

2. Different Formation

It doesn’t feel (at this point) that the Rapids are going to drastically change the players on the team. And why should then? They had a heck of a lot of success last season running out the players they did. But they were only able to score 39 goals and in a league that puts a premium on scoring, you are asking your defense to be perfect, or nearly so, every game. If you go with the logic that the personnel is going to stay pretty much the same, it means they need a different formation.

Pablo Mastroeni was very much wedded to the 4-2-3-1 last season, but would there be a formation that better utilizes what the club has? I would argue that yes, there are options that would open up more scoring opportunities without sacrificing the defense that the team was build on.

The 4-4-2

This formation is largely out of style in Major League Soccer and one that would force the biggest fundamental change for Pablo. With the 4-2-3-1, Pablo is able to more readily rely on a six-man back line (including two defensive midfielders). The favored defensive grouping of Marc Burch, Axel Sjoberg, Jared Watts, and Eric Miller with Sam Cronin and Micheal Azira in front of them was solid, if not the standard bearer of consistency in MLS.

In a phrase: the 4-2-3-1 works well, but does not lead to many goals with the personnel that Colorado has. The 4-4-2 would allow the team to express themselves better and I would offer a starting XI (when everyone is healthy) that shapes out like this:

GK: Tim Howard

LB: Marc Burch

CB: Axel Sjoberg, Jared Watts

RB: Eric Miller

LM: Dillon Serna

CM: Sam Cronin

CM: Micheal Azira

RM: Marlon Hairston

F: Kevin Doyle

F: Shkelzen Gashi

The 4-4-2 offers that same strong backline, but with Gashi pushed higher up the field, he would be able to use his playmaking abilities to fire in more goals, but also give better service to Kevin Doyle, who suffered from a lack of quality service, at times, in 2016.

Some concerns: It does force Cronin and Azira to get further involved in the attack, and that is not their strong point. Also, Azira had a heck of year in 2016, and was that the norm, or did he overachieve and will slip back this season? I also have a bias towards Dillon Powers (if I am being perfectly honest) and I would exchange Powers for Azira.

The 3-5-2

The 3-5-2 is gaining a lot of notoriety around the globe with the success that Chelsea Football Club in the English Premier League is having this season. Certainly, the Rapids do not have the same quality of footballers that Chelsea does, but there are some indications that they could play this formation.

How this could look:

GK: Tim Howard

LB: Marc Burch

CB: Axel Sjoberg

RB: Eric Miller

LM: Dillon Serna

CM: Sam Cronin

CAM: Dillon Powers

CM: Micheal Azira

RM: Marlon Hairston

F: Kevin Doyle

F: Shkelzen Gashi

But wait! Only three defenders?

It’s not as scary as you think as both Serna and Hairston can drop back and help on defense as they will be on the wings and both of them have played defense before. You do lose Watts, who despite my frustration with his play, has improved dramatically. And Powers is a bit of a liability as an attacking midfield (his best year as an attacking mid was 2013 under Oscar Pareja). But this formation would provide better service (Powers can do that quite well) for Doyle and Gashi and should lead to more goals.

This may all be academic at this point, as the Rapids are still two months out from First Kick in March, and its tough to gauge how things will go. But it is a conversation that is fun to have as the Rapids enter the season with something new on their shoulders:

Expectation.