I sort of feel uncomfortable in these interviews because I’m probably not the most liked person in the place right now, and I understand why; it’s been a frustrating season. When I say what’s happening in the camp, I understand. If I’m a fan, I’m not really concerned about that. I want to see end product.
Even our own editor, who by all accounts is measured in her evaluations of our club’s performance, found herself expressing a frustration that many-a Rapids supporter echoed in their burgundy hearts:
I can’t pretend to know what it’s like for every aspect of your job to be under scrutiny and I don’t like giving my opinion about someone else’s livelihood, but after a season like this?
Heads should ROLL.
We keep hearing “we know what we need to do and where we are going,” but at this point, does anyone really believe that the people in charge right now can get this club anywhere besides the bottom of the table? If we come into the 2019 season with the exact same coaching staff and Front Office as we’re heading out of 2018 with, I don’t think there is much hope left for this organization.
Let’s retrace the steps pre-Hudson days, specifically August 16, 2017.
The Rapids Way Op-Ed
On the aforementioned date of August 16, 2017, the Denver Post published an op-ed by then-Interim General Manager Padraig Smith and Chief Business Officer Wayne Brant, who outlined a vision for the future of the Colorado Rapids called The Rapids Way. This came weeks after the dismissal of Rapids legend and 2016 Coach of the Year Pablo Mastroeni after a lackluster start to the 2017 season. Hopes were high after the showing in 2016, being merely one goal away from the finals and finishing second in the Supporters’ Shield.
Smith and Brant outlined a vision with a goal of being more “transparent” with the supporters. The crux of the vision is stated here:
Player acquisition alone will not be enough though. We’re also going to implement a system — or a set of principles — in the coming months that will allow for us to think vertically and allow our attacking players more freedom.
We want to be a high-intensity team that is willing to take calculated risks in the right areas of the field — but all the while maintaining the defensive discipline that is part and parcel to who we are, and always have been.
In short, we’ll hold tight to the things that this club stands for, but we must find evolution in the areas that we aspire to improve.
It was with this vision in place that the search for a coach transpired in order to bring this philosophy to full fruition. So, on November 29, 2017, Anthony Hudson, manager of the New Zealand National Team and considered by some to be a bright light in the coaching firmament, was announced as manager. His pedigree (son of Alan Hudson) and his coaching career seemed on a good trajectory.
“Considered by some to be a bright light” is the operative phrase. Some noticed the 9-7-11 record as national team manager, garnering most of his wins against an astoundingly weak Oceania Football Confederation but struggling with the bigger national teams. But a new chapter with a new club would be a good step for him and many believed that he would have more of an impact on a club if he was with the players every single day.
Kicking Off the 2018 Campaign
Hudson came to a new club with a number of new faces in hopes of making 2018 another one to remember like 2016. Speaking of which, due to the success of that year, the Rapids qualified for the CONCACAF Champions League this season, where they faced... 2017 MLS Cup Champions Toronto FC. Toronto advanced on a 2-0 aggregate—remember watching the match at DSGP in 3-degree weather?. It wasn’t a terrible loss and it gave us some hope, but Hudson indicated:
This is preseason for us. That’s the bottom line. It’s preseason. If this is a preseason game for us before we lead into our first game of the season, we’re very, very happy.
As I responded in an article, this did not mean he didn’t want to win, but recognized that Toronto and Colorado were at opposite ends of the spectrum. At any rate, his comment did not go over well with many supporters. But still, the MLS season was forthcoming. Here we go!
The 2018 MLS Season
The season started off alright, with the Rapids going 2-2-1. The highlight of that run was a 3-0 win at home against the Philadelphia Union when Dominique Badji earned a hat trick. (It was on the third goal when Stefan Aigner wanted Badji to cross it to him for an easy score, but when Badji took it himself, Aigner’s reaction was ... telling. And foreshadowing.)
Next came a nine-game losing streak (eight-game MLS losing streak with a loss to Nashville SC in the Open Cup to pour lemon juice into that open wound). Hudson, favoring the 3-5-2 formation, began experimenting with a 4-5-1 until finally settling on a 4-4-2.
This is where the frustration mounted. The Rapids Way, which promised more attacking soccer, seemed to write a check that it/he/they could not cash. Badji and Joe Mason, the hopeful strikers, left the team either via trade or free agency. Yannick Boli was another possible answer, as was the potential of Jack McBean. Each of these men, granted, did not meet expectations—but a case could be made that the tactics in place did not set them up for success. What can you expect when you go on the road and employ a 4-5-1, leaving Yannick Boli on an island, sending in balls over the top, and praying that something magical will happen?
This is what made the second losing streak (six games) so frustrating. The summer transfer window brought on Kellyn Acosta from FC Dallas—a USMNT staple and a wonderful talent but at the expense of Dominique Badji, our leading goal scorer—and Giles Barnes, along with trading an international spot to Minnesota United for $50,000 in GAM (General Allocation Money), but the moves did little to turn the 2018 campaign around.
The Rapids did end the season on a 2-1-0 run, giving some of the younger talent time on the pitch. While this allowed Hudson and the FO to get a good look at them at this point, one cannot help but wonder why we didn’t see more of them earlier when the season was all but over in July. When it was all said and done, the team finished with a dismal 8-19-7 record and just 31 points. It was one of the worst seasons in club history, and the worst since MLS started playing 34 games per year.
Whether it was the tactics, the inability of the players to implement the strategy, the number of new players (which could affect chemistry), or whether Anthony Hudson underestimated the talent level of MLS, he (and the front office) must improve on his first season.