This article is part two of a series on the Rapids offseason roster needs. For part 1, click here.
And as a quick refresher: here’s my guess at the Rapids possible 2018 depth chart, based on the players the Rapids have right now and the likely 5-3-2 formation that coach Hudson will employ.
Status: Fair-to-Middlin’. There are bodies here, but they aren’t going to win you any trophies.
The team’s current central midfield players are Nana Boateng, Micheal Azira, Shkëlzen Gashi, Johan Blomberg, Stefan Aigner, Ricardo Perez and Sam Hamilton.*
Aigner looked very good in his half-season with the Rapids in 2017, where he played in 9 games and started 4 games as a central attacking midfielder. Azira was his usual reliable self as a defensive stopper, but that skill set might be less essential in a 5-3-2, where your middle centerback may take on the role of stepping up into the midfield to do the work of destroyer, and you don’t really need a ‘defense first’ midfielder like Azira.** Boateng and Gashi were hampered by injuries and their 2017 campaigns were ultimately disappointing. Blomberg is a completely unknown quantity, and if history serves as an indicator, will need at least half of a season to acclimate to the league.
Perez (who spent 2017 on loan with Colorado Springs Switchbacks) and Hamilton (who was out on loan with Phoenix Rising FC) will have a chance to make the starting team out of training camp. If either sticks in Commerce City for 2018, it is likely to be as a sub or reserve.
The Rapids shed three active players out of the midfield in the November roster purge: Joshua Gatt, Mohammed Saeid (now with Lyngby Boldklub in Denmark, who are awesome because they have a viking on their crest) and Luis Gil. I liked Gatt, but his game didn’t include much defense, so I’m not sure he was going to work out in Hudson’s 5-3-2 anyhow. Saeid would have been a useful piece in this midfield due to exceptional passing ability. Luis Gil’s usefulness, not-so-much. They also got young DP Juan Ramirez off the books. Pour one out for that.
The team is likely satisfied with their options at defensive midfield with Boateng and Azira, although adding a two-way, do-it-all mid is never a bad idea. But they still need another two or three players to fill out the roster in the midfield. And one needs to be a top-notch creator.
A great central attacking midfielder is the missing piece this team needs to compete at a high level in 2018. For Rapids fans, the game-changing CAM is our white whale; our one ring to rule them all; our proverbial McGuffin. And as such, it also happens to be one of the most expensive positions in football. The Rapids need an attacking midfielder that will play under the striker, feed the ball to the flashing wingers, create chances, and score 8-15 goals. To get a player like like that, like Sebastian Giovinco or Giovani Dos Santos or Miguel Almiron or Nico Lodeiro, you have to pay a huge premium. In 2017, Giovinco made $7 million, Dos Santos made $5.5 million, Almiron made $2.3 million, and Lodeiro made $1.7 million.
The notoriously thrifty Rapids might just break the bank for a dribbly Brazilian or a perfect-passing Spaniard. But I have also suggested that they spend big money on a CAM in 2017, and I suggested the same thing in 2016, and I made some suggestions at the transfer window for 2017, and we got bubkis. I’m getting tired of saying we need something that never seems to arrive.
If they don’t spend the big money, the Rapids could acquire another TAM-level midfielder as a midfield winger/shuttler and slot Aigner in as the creator, which is what I did in my lineup card above. I’d rather go to battle with Aigner as the backup option here, but I’m not the guy that sits in a leather chair on Victory Way trying to convince an Argentinian and his agent that Denver is just as cosmopolitan as Buenos Aires or Madrid.
Status: Desperately seeking double-digit goal scorer.
The Rapids currently have Dominique Badji, Jack McBean, and Caleb Calvert at striker. Calvert is not likely to be part of the discussion in 2018, as the 21-year-old will probably spend another year honing his craft on loan in the USL. That leaves us Badji and McBean, plus the big question of whether the Rapids will go with a one-striker system or a two-striker system in 2018.
When lining up in a 5-3-2, the team can either treat the striker as a lone center forward with a creative attacker like Stefan Aigner worker underneath him, or pair two strikers alongside one another and drop Aigner into a central or center-wide midfield spot. If the team chooses to use two strikers, Badji is certain to be one of them, and the team will need to add a second starting-caliber striker to the roster.
Gashi played the forward position with FC Basel from 2013 to 2015, but Colorado hasn’t ever used him in that spot, choosing instead to play him as a wide midfielder, and occasionally as a CAM. Gashi’s tendency to shoot from wide, his lack of pace, and his below-average hold-up play makes me think slotting him in as a striker is unwise and unlikely.
With the retirement of Kevin Doyle, the Rapids TAM-level striker, the team has a whole bunch of money to go out and buy a premium-quality striker to either operate alone or alongside Badji. I mentioned in part one of the cap-ology article that the team has lots of money to operate under the cap. That’s a good thing, because striker is the most expensive position in football.
Taking that all into consideration, Colorado can do one of four things regarding the starting striker position here:
1) Go big: Use that DP slot for a multi-million dollar striker. Here’s a list of guys that I suggested back during the summer. John Guidetti is apparently out-of-favor at Celta Vigo right now, and Cristian Pavon could absolutely light up MLS and get folks around the league to stop talking about Atlanta United and LAFC for a second.
2) Go medium: Bring in a TAM-level player for $1 to 2 million in salary, plus potential transfer fees.
3) Go cheap, part 1: Promote from within. We’d get to see if the pacey and athletic Dominique Badji can continue to improve on his 2017 in which he scored a respectable 9 goals.
4) Go cheap, part 2: Use the MLS SuperDraft to get a striker, even if you have to trade up or swap some TAM to get the guy you want. Five of the top six forecasted picks in the SuperDraft are attacking mids or forwards. The Rapids don’t have any picks in the first round of the 2018 SuperDraft, but they could trade TAM, GAM, later picks, or current players to get into position to pick a guy they like. Before you sneer at this idea, remember that Cyle Larin was a first round pick in 2015. He scored 17 goals in his rookie season, has a total of 43 in three years with Orlando City, and is set to be sold to top Bundesliga side and spell-check frenemy Borussia Monchengladbach. No Rapids player in the 21-year history of the club ever scored 17 goals in a season (Conor Casey holds the team record with 16 back in 2009).
I had the debate about whether the Rapids should go get a big-time, pricey center forward over twitter with Marcelo Balboa (!). ‘Celo said:
Castillo will help but We need to find a big time STRIKER that can score 15 + goals a year consistently. https://t.co/12vZicXxiL— Marcelo Balboa (@marcelobalboa17) December 20, 2017
And then I said:
Call me crazy, but I think the Rapids could get 15 goals out of Badji and 10 from McBean if they get the right pieces around them— Rapids Rabbi (@rapidsrabbi) December 20, 2017
And then ‘Celo said:
We've talked about this for the last 10 years that the rapids need a play maker and a big-time striker ..— Marcelo Balboa (@marcelobalboa17) December 20, 2017
And then I said:
Counterpoint from ‘Soccernomics’. Also, I think Padraig thinks like this too. pic.twitter.com/DehTDNaKg0— Rapids Rabbi (@rapidsrabbi) December 20, 2017
Balboa believes the team needs to spend big money on a striker, and I think his point about the team not spending big on a striker for the last decade is a fairly strong indication that the Rapids won’t be spending big on a striker. Call me crazy.
The team’s history, plus that little bit of Olympique Lyon/Moneyball wisdom from the book Soccernomics leads me to believe that Rapids GM Padraig Smith will pinch his pennies rather than spend big. When the Rapids add a striker, I’d expect it to be at a TAM level or below.
In my heart, I’d love for the team to spend big on a talented striker. But in my head, I know that it’d be a huge expenditure for a questionable payoff. I would rather the team spend modestly on two promising candidates at a TAM-level salary then break the bank for a one big striker. The Rapids record of Designated Players isn’t great:
- Gabriel Torres - 55 games, 10 goals
- Juan Ramirez - 27 games, 1 goal
- Kevin Doyle - 71 games, 16 goals
- Shkëlzen Gashi - 43 games, 11 goals
- Tim Howard - He’s a good goalkeeper. He also costs $2.6 million a year.
Some MLS teams have had more success (Guillermo Barrios Schellota: 118 games, 38 goals; Thierry Henry: 122 games, 51 goals; Cuatemoc Blanco: 95 games, 23 goals). Some teams have had less success (Gilberto: 47 games, 12 goals; Denilson: 8 games, 1 goal; Mista: 9 games, 0 goals). So you can get it very right! But you can also get it terribly, terribly wrong. I’d be thrilled if the Rapids dropped a lot of coin on a big striker and it worked out. I’m just of the belief that our odds are better if we follow the path of Olympique Lyon. Spend your money wisely. That means: don’t spend it on a striker.
Those are my thoughts on the roster needs. We’ll see some of these additions in January, and likely some in February, too. Shkelzen Gashi came to the club on February 1. Kevin Doyle joined the team relatively late, on March 20.
And of course, sometimes the team can’t extricate a European player until the season ends over there, meaning it’s possible the team will hold off on that massive signing we’ve been hoping for until July. We at Burgundy Wave will keep you posted on all the rumors and transfers as we hear of them.
— — — — — — — — —
* The team could also use Dillon Serna here too.
** Based on this observation, I think it’s possible we’ll see Micheal Azira play on the backline this season.