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Four thoughts on trading away Sam Cronin and Marc Burch

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We are confused. We are heartbroken. We are nervous. We are also optimistic.

MLS: New York Red Bulls at Colorado Rapids Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

I had just concluded teaching a lovely Talmud class this morning and was settling in to relax and maybe catch up on a little desk work. And then, I got this twitter message.

So I respond.

Abbie had texted me earlier in the day to remind me that April Fools Day was a great time for people to jerk SBNation blogs around with ridiculous, obscene pranks. And here’s this article that says the Rapids are trading their captain, Sam Cronin and starting leftback, Marc Burch to Minnesota. And in exchange, they’re going to get a non-descript midfielder, Mohammed Saeid, and a winger, Josh Gatt, that hasn’t played much since June of 2013 due to three torn ACLs.

It felt like April Fools had come early. What could the Rapids possibly be thinking?

So here are a couple of thoughts about the trade.

1. Damn I’m gonna miss Sam Cronin and Marc Burch

Every fan has favorites, and so do writers. Fan favorites are ‘run-through-a-brick-wall-for-the-team’ type guys. Writer favorites are guys who give thoughtful, intelligent quotes.

Sam Cronin is both. I’ve seen him stick around to sign autographs. I’ve seen him answer questions with clever and honest answers that make “good copy.” I’ve seen him draw a tactical yellow and then bitch out the ref in an honest, but not over the line, kind of way.

I got to interview him on two occasions. And I really enjoyed it. Not only is he polite and well-spoken, but he’s also the same height, same weight, same hairstyle as me. I can’t help but like a guy who makes me think: if he can be a footballer, than I could have been a footballer.

Sam’s well liked and well respected by every fan and writer I’ve talked to. We’re all gonna miss him.

Marc Burch is a low key locked-in talent for the Rapids at left back, the position of greatest need in MLS, or almost any soccer league, really. He defends well and can emergency defend well. He has a booming shot. He crosses extremely well. He’s a good solid MLS left back. One of my favorite things I ever wrote was about Burch, back in May 2016, when Burch was the difference-maker in a 1-0 win against Seattle.

Marc Burch is a damn peasant folk hero. After this game, ballads were written of his legend in small villages across the Slavic hinterland. When battling ‘Marc Burch' in an MMORG, you must roll a 99 in order to survive an encounter with him. Marc Burch actually runs MLS' central office of man-bun approval: no player in the league may sport his signature hairstyle without expressed written consent from Marc Burch himself. If the US had had Burch in 1941, they could have dropped him over a Japanese city and ended the war immediately. Burch relaxed after the game by solving an equation sent to him by Fermi Labs, giving a lecture on his work decoding the human genome, and rescuing a family of penguins from a South American ice floe. When MLS named him to the ‘best XI' this week, he humbly demurred and handed the honor off to young Swede Axel Sjoberg.

Suffice it to say I’m a little upset that we traded Sam and Marc.

2. This trade can’t be evaluated now. We won’t know what it means till July.

On it’s face and in the early report, this trade made zero sense. What the Rapids gave up was two starters that are integral to our defense. What they received in return was a midfielder that I’d never thought about when he played for Columbus and I didn’t notice in any of the three games I watched of Minnesota, and a winger whose injury history makes him, essentially, a lottery ticket. Finding out there was not TAM or GAM coming along was additionally more befuddling.

But as Abbie Mood reported in her original story, Minnesota is eating some or much of the salary for both Saeid and Gatt. That could be between $150,000 and $300,000 in cap space. You can add that to what the Rapids may still have in their war chest for summer transfer and free agent signings, which I had as around $1.2 million plus their DP slot back in December, before they signed Bismark Adjei-Boateng. Colorado may just be lining their ducks up to splurge over the summer. So as much I really want to panic and scream and run around screaming ‘This is a bad trade! What are they doing?!?’, I don’t think that’s responsible. We’ll know if this move was good or bad at the end of July, after the club has brought in a player or two with the cap space they’ve freed up.

3. Sam Cronin was blocking Nana Boateng. Marc Burch was blocking Mekeil Williams... or maybe Dillon Serna.

Fans had consistently been wondering when the Rapids were going to play Nana Boateng. Although many wanted to see him at central midfield, Pablo Mastroeni felt he was more right as a defensive midfielder. But Cronin is the captain, so it’s hard to sit him down. And Azira is as good at reading the gaps and picking off balls as any in MLS. As I’ve noted before, Azira led all midfielders in 2016 in interceptions with 106. You don’t often notice it, but he’s pretty good. On top of that, there are still lots of thoughts that Dillon Powers needs to get pushed back to defensive midfield, where his long passing vision will be a huge asset, and his lack of dribbling and pace won’t be a liability.

So the Rapids had, basically, four d-mids for two spots. It was time to trade one. Now, Boateng - and maybe Powers - will get a chance to show what they’ve got.

Mekeil Williams is a talented, fast, attack-minded fullback, but he, too was blocked behind Burch and Eric Miller. All three were really first-team caliber players, so the Rapids made the moves to give those younger, talented players a chance.

It is also possible that the Rapids see big things in the future at fullback for new acquisition Mike da Fonte, or that the club wants to move Dillon Serna to left back full time. USMNT U-23 coach Andi Herzog thought that was Serna’s best position last year, and maybe Colorado is game to try that experiment again.

Whatever the thought may be, the Rapids front office clearly thinks that the team had the depth to make these moves in the near term, knowing that the depth on the team could probably allow them to maintain their current performance, or perhaps be even better. And in the long term, they would have the cash to bring on some more talent for the late-season run.

4. The team just got a lot younger, and maybe a little bit more offensive.

Sam Cronin is 30 years old. Marc Burch is turning 33 soon. Meanwhile, Adjei-Boateng is 22, and Mekeil Williams is 26. While defensive midfielders tend to age pretty well, fullbacks, with the exception of DaMarcus Beasley, do not. Burch is still a pretty good player, but his carriage was due to turn into a pumpkin soon.

And while Burch can swing in a cross and his pace is surprisingly intact, I think Williams is the more threatening offensive force. Cronin, too, is a defense-minded midfielder. Although he is a fine passer, it isn’t the focal point of his game. Perhaps swapping these two players is meant to give the team a more aggressive attacking presence. Time will tell.

...

While, like most fans, I’m a little afraid of the unknown, and a little sad that I won’t be seeing Sam and Marc at DSGP in burgundy again this year, I’m excited that the team is willing to take risks and make moves that it believes will bear fruit down the line.

New things replace old. The only constant is change. The players I loved today will move on. New heroes will emerge. And perhaps they’ll help us lift a cup.