With pre-season training opening in Arizona, and the first scrimmage of the 2018 season in the books, the Colorado Rapids are circling in on their opening day roster. With just a few spots left to be claimed, two USL players are strongly in the running to join the Colorado Rapids.
Midfielder Enzo Martinez and defender Joel Johnson are in camp with the squad in sunny Casa Grande, Arizona. Senior Director of Soccer Development Brian Crookham filled Burgundy Wave in on some of the things that make the two potential assets to the 2018 roster.
“They don’t get spots in our pre-season. They earn spots in our pre-season. The two guys we have in here now have certainly done that. They not only have to earn their right to be here, but there has to be a need from the first-team standpoint for the guys to be here.”
Enzo Martinez had 16 goals and 5 assists in a standout year for the Independence. He was named to the All-USL First Team eleven, and was the runner-up for league MVP, finishing behind Jamaican international and Golden Boot winner Dane Kelly. The 5’7” footballer played his college ball with the University of North Carolina. He was originally drafted in 2012 by Real Salt Lake, but has played his entire career at the USL level. Martinez is 27-years-old, and although he was born in Uruguay, he’s been in the US for virtually his entire life.
Crookham told us a little of the quality that makes Enzo such an exciting possibility to play at the MLS-level with the Rapids. “He’s a very intense competitor. He can do it in front of goal. He was involved in a lot of goals for Charlotte last year, even though he didn’t always earn the assist. Not only that, but he’s a menace between lines - he gets in between lines and creates from those spots. That’s something we’ve been looking for for a long time.”
Crookham also described him as calm on the ball and capable of taking the touches that slow down the game or open it up for other players. For Charlotte, he played as an attacking midfielder or even as a forward. For the Rapids, he’d likely be tasked with creating a little bit deeper into the midfield under the system the coaches plan to employ. He might “take the qualities he possesses as a number 10, but play more like a number 8. He’s a very creative 8.”
Joel Johnson is a 23-year-old right back for Charlotte. Born in Liberia, he came up in Spain with top-flight La Liga club Valencia, playing primarily for their ‘B’ team. In 2016, he joined the Charlotte Independence.
“He’s a prototype of a wingback,” Brian Crookham told us. “He’s got a great engine. He has exceptional pace. He is a good individual defender and a good passer. He delivers very good balls from wide areas.”
The Rapids currently have
24 25 players signed to contract on the roster. An MLS roster is generally comprised of between 26 and 30 players. Martinez and Johnson are competing for roster spots against three of the players the Rapids drafted in the 2018 SuperDraft; forwards Niki Johnson and Alan Winn, and goalkeeper Thomas Olsen.
Colorado lost out on two of their five draft picks when it was announced that Brian Iloski and Frandtzy Pierrot would ply their trade overseas rather than join the MLS club that selected them.
In response to that turn of events, Crookham was pragmatic and practical. “The draft is about asset acquisition. Some time that’s a short-term play and sometimes that’s a longer-term play.”
Reading slightly between the lines, Crookham is looking at the upside of potentially losing two players. The Rapids will hold the rights to Frandtzy Pierrot and Brian Iloski in the event that they play a few years overseas and want to return to MLS. At that point, the Rapids would either get those players directly, or any other MLS team acquiring one of the players would owe the Rapids some form of compensation for their rights.
With Colorado trialing only one player at goalkeeper in addition to the already signed netminders (Tim Howard and Zac MacMath) we asked whether the team had settled on Thomas Olsen as their number three or whether the team was actively exploring possible transfers or free agents for that position. The Rapids, however, declined to comment.