There’s a good chance that the 2017 is dead and buried. Fivethirtyeight.com has the Rapids chances at making the playoffs at just 14%. The current defense is struggling, having put together only three clean sheets in 18 matches. The offense is only marginally more effective than in was in 2016. There isn’t a lot clicking right now in Commerce City.
But if there’s one thing we know about MLS, it’s that the level of parity in the league means almost anyone can rebound from a bad year and find themselves in the title game. The Rapids went from zeroes to heroes in 2016. Chicago Fire seem to have done the same in 2017. The 2014 Portland Timbers didn’t make the playoffs, and the 2015 club won the whole thing. Most MLS teams are, IMHO, three smart transactions away from a trophy every single season.
The first of those transactions has to happen now, at the summer window. Since the rest of the football world is deep in the throes of roster reconstruction, there are a plethora of other teams casting off bits and pieces that can help another team. One club’s third-string reserve team fodder is another team’s missing puzzle piece for a championship run. You just hope your team can identify that magical missing piece, and at the right price.
For starters, the widely held assumption is that the Rapids are out to get a central attacker: a striker, center forward, or attacking midfield. I say that because of this and this and this. We need some other positions, but the biggest holes in the team are a number 10 (attacking mid) and a number 9 (striker/center forward).
The transfer window will open on July 10, and Colorado is certainly a buyer. Here are a few players the Rapids might get. The caveat here is pretty large: there are tens of thousands of available soccer players in literally hundreds of leagues, so take these ten suggestions (and the various other players mentioned) more as templates than legitimate predictions. A great example - when I did a column like this over the winter*, I suggested the Rapids get an African-born central midfielder playing in the Norwegian Tippeligaen, and they went out and got one. Just not the one I thought - I said Luc Kassi, they got Bismark Adjei-Boateng. Tomayto, tomaahto.
On the other hand, if I nail one of these picks dead on, then clearly you should disregard everything I said above and just recognize that I’m a soccer genius. Here goes.
Striker, 24 years old - CD Olimpia (Honduras), On loan to to Tenerife in Spanish 2nd division
Lozano scored 9 goals this past season for Tenerife, and was named player of the month in May. He also has 7 goals in 23 appearances for the Honduran national team. A lean lanky 6’0”, most of the highlights of Lozano I saw were clever headers or poached balls in the box. He has potential, and I think his price would be reasonable, but I also think it’s possible to get a player with a more impressive track record than some quality matches for a CONCACAF minnow and a hot month in a so-so European league.
Striker, 25 years old, Celta Vigo
Guidetti was a Manchester City player that was put out on loan again, and again, and again, until they finally just let him walk on a free transfer to Celta Vigo at the end of the 2014-15 season. There, the Swede Guidetti backed up or played alongside Iago Aspas while he racked up 26 goals this year. You might think the Rapids can’t get a guy like this, but perhaps Guidetti doesn’t want to play second fiddle for a perennial La Liga also-ran. Maybe he could be coaxed to Colorado with hopes of following David Villa’s footsteps of stardom. And he has star potential. As a 20-year-old, he scored 20 goals on loan with Feyenoord, including three (!) hat tricks. This past season he had 37 appearances and only 8 goals, but La Liga is a tougher league than the Eredivisie by all accounts. He’d command a hefty price, as transfermarkt thinks he’s worth between $4 million and $9 million, so maybe it’s a complete impossibility. But I think the idea - underused top-flight attacker in his prime at a mid-table European club - is valid.
Center Forward, 21 years old, Boca Juniors
The most popular well for bigger, richer teams to dip their bucket is the Argentinian Primera División, and the best team in that league is probably Boca Juniors. Cristian Pavon is one of probably many potential candidates to come out of that system. I’ll shut up and let his highlight reel speak for him.
From this video, Pavon just likes to score, and he’s got good off the ball instincts too. He’s probably more of a second forward than an attacking mid. Pavon played for Argentina’s U23 team at the 2016 Olympics in Brazil, and that’s a pretty good indicator that he’s a future star. Here’s the list of players on the Argentine Olympic team (their U23s plus three overage players) back in 2008:
Oscar Ustari, Ezequiel Garay, Luciano Fabián Monzón, Pablo Zabaleta, Fernando Gago, Federico Fazio, José Ernesto Sosa, Éver Banega, Ezequiel Lavezzi, Juan Román Riquelme, Ángel Di María, Nicolás Pareja, Lautaro Acosta, Javier Mascherano, Lionel Messi, Sergio Agüero, Diego Buonanotte, Sergio Romero, Nicolás Navarro
With an exception or two, those are the best players on the planet. Of course, Pavon will be expensive - transfermarkt has him at $8 million. But of all the players on this list, this is the guy I’d buy.
The thing about Pavon is, his Argentinian squad didn’t perform well at the Olympics, getting knocked out at the group stage in a 1-1 draw against a Honduras side that featured future Houston Dynamo wingers Romell Quioto and Alberth Elis (and the aforementioned Anthony Lozano, hint, hint.) So maybe he’s not a sure thing, and maybe he’s overpriced because of the kind of expectations that come with making the Argentine U23. The Rapids aren’t a silly-money team like Chelsea, who are happy to drop $10 million on their 55th player who they’ll loan out indefinitely to some second-tier European league. So, maybe not.
Forward, 19 years old, Caracas FC
If you think Pavon is going to be overpriced because he plays for Argentina; if you think Pavon was disappointing because his team didn’t perform; then you go bargain buys. Which means younger, and less prestigious than Argentina.
You go Venezuela.
Venezuela doesn’t have a strong reputation at the international level - they’ve NEVER qualified for the World Cup, and they sit dead last in CONMEBOL qualifying right now. But - and a big ‘but’ - their U20 team was great at the U20 World Cup, and one of their better players was 19-year-old Ronaldo Chacon. Here’s his highlight reel:
He’s fast, tall, and technical. He’s got a bunch of sequences here where he takes a nice touch, holds up the ball, burst past a defender, and plays a perfect 30-yard pass. Because he plays in the much-less prestigious Venezuelan League, he won’t be very expensive. Because he’s 19, he’s much more of a gamble. He may not be MLS ready. On the other hand, NYCFC has one of his U20 teammates, Yangel Herrera, on loan from Manchester City, and he looks great.
CM, 21 years old, Chelsea
This not going to happen, because for some weird reason, English Premier League teams don’t loan young players to MLS teams, with the exception of Man City and NYCFC, who are the same club.
But here’s the thing: England is terrible at the international level, because almost their entire starting lineup sits on the bench in the Premier League. If England wants to beat European juggernauts like Spain, Germany, and Iceland**, they need their guys to play every day. In three full seasons with Chelsea, Loftus-Cheek has only 22 appearances for the team. That’s dumb. He should play somewhere, as should other underused young English players like Callum Chambers, Will Hughes, Josh Onomah, and Demarai Gray.
What I’m saying is, hey England, just because we dumped your tea in the harbor 240 years ago doesn’t mean you shouldn’t send us a decent young footballer on loan once in a while. English teams would be better off loaning young players to the US than if they let them play a few matches a year in the FA Cup or Europa League.
Attacking Midfielder, 26 years old, Middlesbrough
Uruguayan Gaston Ramirez played in 2016-17 for Middlesbrough, playing in 20 matches and recording 2 goals and 3 assists. His contract, signed in 2016, was for three years, but Middlesbrough were relegated to end the EPL seasons, along with Hull City and Sunderland. Boro picked up a new manager on June 9 in Garry Monk, and often, new managers want new players. Also, relegation is expensive, and often results in a player dump. New reports seem to indicate that Boro are buying players right now and talking about ‘going back up’, but I’m unconvinced. Ramirez is in his prime and might be a good fit. He can play a little too.
Striker Alvaro Negredo, on loan from Valencia, and forward Adama Traore are also options. Hull City and Sunderland are also going down and Rapids Front Office folk have likely looked at tape on their players to see if any candidates emerge. I didn’t seem a compelling attacker on either club, but hey, you never know. In the English Championship, Rotheram, Wigan, and Blackburn were all sent down to League One, and might also be thinking of unloading players they can no longer afford.
Midfielder, 26 years old, The Strongest
Chumacero is the leading scorer at the 2017-18 Copa Libertadores, the top-level South American club competition, with 8 goals. He’s a tiny 5’4 1/2”, and has played 277 matches for Bolivian club ‘The Strongest’, earning 53 goals. He’s really proved he’s a quality player, and he’s incredibly durable. His highlight reel is filled with tricks and flicks. Even if Chumacero isn’t the right guy, Colorado is certainly looking closely at players in Chile, Colombia, and Argentina for a youngster ready for a bigger, richer league. Of course, we all know that sometimes you come back from South America with Miguel Almiron, and sometimes you bring home Juan Ramirez.
Midfielder, 24 years old, Ajax
Ziyech starred for Dutch side Ajax in the Europa League Final against Manchester United. In his first season with the Dutch powerhouse, he played in 28 matches and scored 7 goals. Ziyech is signed through 2021, but he and Ajax have to be seeing inquiries from teams with their checkbooks in hand. He last sold for $12 million from FC Twente to Ajax, and moving on from Ajax will cost even more. Maybe that’s too much for an MLS side to pay. But proven attacking midfielders are always going to be expensive, unless you’re willing to pick up an older player transferring on a free.
Striker, 33 years old, Alanyaspor
The Brazilian striker is currently with Alanyaspor in the Turkish Super Lig. Love has played for eight teams in six leagues on three continents. He ought to conquer America. In a professional career stretching back to 2002, Love has scored an insane 194 goals. This would certainly be a short term, end-of-career, Didier Drogba type move. But Drogba had a pretty fantastic run in his first couple months with Montreal. And the transfer would be free. C’mon, Rapids. Bring in the Love.
Attacking midfielder, 22 years old, Sparta Rotterdam
Calero was a product of Atletico Madrid’s academy but moved on from their B team, having never made their top-flight club. He’s had a few starts for Rotterdam but mostly plays for their youth team. Calero seems to be a fading young star that can’t seem to get on the field regularly for a top European team - he’s been moved from Madrid to Derby County to Rotterdam, but hasn’t ever been the everyday starter for any of his teams. Perhaps he should get a shot with the Rapids, who might be as desperate for an offensive star as Calero is to reboot his career.
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* Here’s an update on the attacking midfield players I suggested over the winter, if you’re interested.
- Victor Claessen, the midfielder from the Swedish Allsvenskan League, transferred in late January to Krasnodar, a top team in the Russian Premier League, where he made 13 appearances and scored one goal. He’s unlikely to move again after only six months at his club.
- Nicolae Stanciu had 8 goals and 8 assists in his first season for Belgian side Anderlecht. I think he’d still be an excellent buy for the Rapids.
- Dylan Flores, the Costa Rican league player, transferred from Saprissa to Portuguese first division team Tongela, and played in seven matches last season.
- Wilmar Barrios played in 21 matches for Argentine powerhouse Boca Juniors as a defensive midfielder.