For our season previews this year, SB Nation has asked us to do something a little different. Instead of writing a regular preview, they’ve asked the MLS sites to create a post specifically for neutral or rival team’s fans.
The thing about the Colorado Rapids is that, besides a core group of diehard supporters, not many soccer fans believe that they’ll do much. Ever. We saw it on Twitter after the CCL loss on Tuesday. We saw it in 2016 when the Rapids were in the playoffs and the announcers couldn’t even get their names right. And while I get the argument that the team needs to build up a consistent culture of winning, the Rapids are never given any credit from around the league—no matter what they do. I won’t deny that there is still work to be done, but we have seen some change with the new leadership, and I’m optimistic about next season.
Here are a few of the ways that things have changed since 2017.
The Rapids have strengthened their roster.
Note: A full roster analysis is coming next week, this is just a general overview.
Last year, the Rapids had very little depth. A few injuries early in the season had them chasing the rest of MLS from the very beginning, and some players had to be flexible and play positions that they weren’t super comfortable in.
Thanks to Pablo Mastroeni’s time as head coach, Colorado has become known as a primarily defensive team, and new Head Coach Anthony Hudson has built upon that strength. With the addition of experienced CBs Danny Wilson and Tommy Smith to an already-stout defensive roster that includes Kortne Ford, Axel Sjoberg, Jared Watts, and Eric Miller, the Rapids have few (if any) concerns with defensive depth.
Over the last few years, the Rapids have lacked a midfielder that could transition play from defense to offense. And once Sam Cronin left, the midfield lost some intensity, too. But if there is one thing we can all agree on from the pre-season and CCL matches, it’s that Jack Price is exactly what we’ve been looking for. His passing is on point and he makes his presence known.
Besides Price, the Rapids have added four more midfielders that will either start or compete for a starting position (we’re especially excited about Enzo Martinez). Last year, few players had any real competition for their starting position.
While we’re still waiting for Joe Mason to arrive and (some of us) are still holding out hope for a big striker signing, the Rapids did add some bench depth with Niki Jackson and Jack McBean.
Anthony Hudson has shaken things up.
I have definitely been on the more skeptical side about Hudson, but I’ve been coming around on him in the last month or so. First, practices have a completely different vibe. They are fast-paced, focused, and non-stop. You can see how the drills translate directly into plays or strategies that they implement in games. In the past, there was more downtime in between drills and while there were obvious skills being practiced, it rarely translated to games.
The biggest change that Hudson has brought, though, is the formation. Whether you call it a 3-5-2 or a 5-3-2, it’s not something we’ve seen in Colorado before. During the off-season, we could see Hudson putting the pieces together, and in both CCL matches we saw more scoring chances created and more players in the box than we have seen in previous seasons.
We’ll see how it all works out once the regular season starts, but I’m feeling hopeful.
The Front Office is making changes behind the scenes.
When The Rapids Way Op-Ed came out in the Denver Post last August, many of us wondered if it was more talk with no action, and while there have been plenty of changes that we all see, there have also been some changes that most people don’t see or hear about.
For example, the Rapids locker room has never been particularly impressive. The hallway was drab and it had a basement-y feel to it. But I just figured it’s a locker room—it doesn’t need to be fancy.
Then I saw some of the changes that have been made in the off-season. There have been many general aesthetic upgrades, including covering some of the boring brick with wood—and a few other things here and there—but the biggest change is that the 2010 MLS Cup sits in the hallway now. Every single day, the players are reminded of the goal. Every single day, they see the cup as they leave the locker room—and that’s a powerful thing.
Colorado will be in the running for a playoff spot.
When it’s all said and done, the Rapids may settle below the red line (say 7th-ish place), but the Burgundy Boys are going to fight for a playoff spot this year. We’ve head Hudson and Pádraig Smith talking about their goals of being a perennial playoff team and it starts this year.
We have the pieces in place. The guys are fit. The only thing left is the incoming striker(s) and for everyone to figure out how this works together, and I think they’ll do it. After the CCL match, everyone talked about how the Rapids had all these new players on the field, but really everyone was new in one way or the other: new to the club, new to the formation, or new to Hudson’s system.
What we saw in those two games was the result of about a month of playing together, and with an easy-ish March (the Rapids have this week off, play on 3/10 in New England, have another week off, and then play Sporting Kansas City and Philadelphia Union at home), there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be at full strength heading into April and the rest of the season.
Oh and one last thing—we’re taking back the Rocky Mountain Cup this year.