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Colorado Rapids 2018 roster analysis: The off-season that was

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A look at the Rapids roster as we kickoff the 2018 season.

MLS: Concacaf Champions League-Colorado Rapids at Toronto FC Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

For those who don’t know me, hi! This is my first post for Burgundy Wave. I’ve been a Rapids fan for 20 years and I’ve been writing View From the Couch for the last 10. Abbie asked if I’d be interested in contributing to Burgundy Wave this season so here I am.

This was certainly one of the more interesting off-seasons for the Colorado Rapids in recent years. The Front Office essentially started with a clean slate, with Pádraig Smith building out his staff after taking over the GM position, new Head Coach Anthony Hudson taking over the reins, and (as of now) 13 new players added to the 30-man roster.

There’s a lot to cover so let’s get to it.

Front Office

Normally I don’t focus much on the FO but they deserve a shout-out after the last 4+ months. Smith identified a coach and a style of play and everything they’ve done has been in furtherance of that goal. It’s a level of professionalism we haven’t seen from the Rapids Front Office before.

Not only did they build out the coaching staff and roster, but we saw additions in technical staff like Fran Taylor and new positions like the Director of Player Personnel, Ena Patel, added.

For the first time ever, I believe, the Rapids are starting the season with all 30 of their roster positions filled (though with Mike da Fonte on loan we could sign another player to fill his spot). They also are pushing green cards, with Stefan Aigner and Deklan Wynne getting theirs faster than I’ve ever seen a Rapids player get one.

I’m not yet convinced that Smith has picked the correct identity for this team, but I am convinced he can build to that identity in a way we’ve never seen before.

Coaching

Anthony Hudson was probably not a name many—well any—fans thought of when Pablo Mastroeni was fired in August. I’m sure many thought, like I did, we were either going to get a lower-level manager from somewhere in the British Isles or an MLS retread/assistant.

Even at this point, Hudson’s coaching remains a bit of a mystery as he’s never led a first-division professional club before. He does seem to understand the game and know what he wants to do, so I don’t fear him learning on the job like I have our past coaches. I just don’t know if he has the skills to coach at this level yet. It’s one of the intriguing things about the beginning of the season.

Goalkeeping

Unsurprisingly, there was no major change here. It’s still Tim Howard 1, Zac MacMath 2. The only real surprise was the trade with Sporting Kansas City for Andrew Dykstra—I figured we’d go with a young guy out of the draft to be the 3rd keeper.

The big question going forward is: where is Howard’s play at? He didn’t look great in the 3-degree temps at the CCL game, but nobody was really moving fast in that weather. With grumbles about his play at the end of last season, he’s going to need to show he still deserves that number 1 spot; otherwise, Hudson will have the first big decision of his Rapids tenure on his hands.

Central Defense

The roster currently has 7-8 players who could play on the back line of the 3-5-2, which should be plenty of depth for the season. Big changes in the starters though: it appears regulars from last season like Axel Sjoberg, Eric Miller, and Jared Watts will start the season on the bench and the expected starters will be Kortne Ford, Tommy Smith, and Danny Wilson.

We haven’t seen much of Smith, and even less of Wilson, but the three of them did keep Toronto off the scoreboard on Tuesday night. Their track records before coming to MLS make it appear that both of them will be upgrades, however.

Wing Backs

This is a new position for the Rapids, which has pretty much always played with a flat back four before now. Marlon Hairston was a natural fit on the right and the team’s first big signing of the offseason was former U.S. National Team player Edgar Castillo, who’s a natural on the left. Behind those two, there’s a lot of youth with the likes of New Zealanders Kip Colvey and Deklan Wynne, and new homegrown signing Sam Vines. We could also see Dillon Serna or Eric Miller spend time on the outside.

Midfield

This has been the core of our off-season rebuild. We’ve seen three signings in this area with the biggest being Jack Price from Wolves. We’ve already seen in the two CCL games that Price is going to be the center of everything that happens in midfield this season and I expect him to quickly become both a fan favorite and indispensable.

Around him will be the likes of Aigner, Shkelzen Gashi, Nana Boateng, Johan Blomberg, Micheal Azira, and Enzo Martinez but if you ask me who’s going to start on Saturday, I couldn’t tell you.

Gashi missed essentially all of preseason with a calf strain, though by all reports he’s much more ready for the season than he was at this time last year. Aigner didn’t get any time in the CCL matches but that was precautionary to avoid aggravating a slight knock he had. Azira appears to be the odd man out at this point, but he might be the most natural backup to Price as well.

There’s not going to be much playing time available for our young guys like Sam Hamilton and Ricardo Perez, who will likely be loaned out or get their playing time in the Open Cup matches.

Forward

Here we get to the elephant in the room. The glaring weakness in 2017 appears to be the glaring weakness at the start of 2018. Who is going to score the goals? The battery of Dominique Badji, Caleb Calvert, Niki Jackson, and Jack McBean doesn’t scare anyone in MLS (with good reason).

The one signing that was made, Joe Mason, happened late in the preseason and he isn’t even in Colorado yet, so he’s a huge question mark. Best case scenario with this group is that Mason puts it together in a way he hasn’t done in a few season and between him and Badji they net 20 goals, supported by Gashi and Aigner getting their fair share. Worst case is that Mason is no better than Badji and we limp to the end of the season with another single-digit Golden Boot winner.

In reality what needs to happen is the Front Office needs to sign a major striker. The window is open in MLS until early May so there’s still a chance to make a move but more likely, the team will need to put together enough points to keep us in the hunt until the summer window opens. As good as this offseason has been it can’t really be considered a success until this hole is filled.

Most Importantly

Of course, the best addition this team made in the offseason was the addition of GB’s Fish & Chips to Eighteen76!