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How Anthony Hudson evaporated the Rapids

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A look at just how bad Hudson’s tenure as head coach really was.

MLS: Concacaf Champions League-Toronto FC at Colorado Rapids Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Anthony Hudson, the worst managerial signing in the history of the Colorado Rapids and arguably one of the worst in the history of MLS, was finally removed from his post on Wednesday following a 1-0 loss to Atlanta United. Following the loss, his seventh of the season and 26th total in his doomed 43-match tenure, he went on a very on-brand tirade about the lack of quality in his team.

“We are fighting down at the bottom with a bottom group of players and we have to find a way to pick up a result.”

Following his dismissal, the rant has been looked back on as the words of a man who knew he was doomed. At the time of the rant, most of the surprise was coming from outside Rapids circles; those of us who knew Hudson were used to him blaming anything and everything outside of himself for his failures, even if this instance was a bit more unhinged than normal. If he did know that he was on his way out and used that final time in the spotlight as a parting shot to the club that had put so much misplaced stock in his ability and chosen him out of everyone one could conceivably find in a “worldwide coaching search”, it would be hard to call it out of character for him.

When the team was letting in goals like a sieve, Hudson blamed a lack of effort and a lack of ability in his constantly rotating defensive line. After the Atlanta loss, a match in which he started six defensive players in a 5-4-1 formation and lost 1-0, the fact that his team had a player who recently had scored five goals in five games escaped him as he blamed the lack of DP attacking talent on his team for the result. It wasn’t on him—it was never on him. As a manager, Hudson was good at one thing, and one thing alone: Narcissism.

The team being a group of what he referred to as “bottom players” was of his own creation. The team as it currently stands does not at all resemble the rough yet proven team that Pablo Mastroeni left behind a mere year and a half ago. (Mastroeni was here for four seasons, but does anyone feel like the Hudson era somehow dragged on even longer? I think we just disproved Einstein.) When Hudson arrived, he was clearly ready to take this team, re-mold it into his own ASAP, and dominate with it. At least, I have to assume that’s what was in his mind. It showed in his cocky demeanor as he told Rapids fans to their face that he didn’t really care about the Rapids second-ever appearance in the CCL and was focusing his energies on the regular season. It showed in his dismissive nature towards questions on his style from day one of his hire until the end. And it showed the most in the careless way that he immediately set out to buy as many new players for his team as possible.

I don’t know statistically what the general number of players signed in a transfer window is. I’m sure it differs around the world depending on the league, level, and budget of teams in question, but from what I know—remember, I’m a fan of both the Rapids and Crystal Palace, so it’s a wonder I even know the basics of how transfer windows are supposed to work—I recall a typical net turnover is three or four players. Two to four leave, two or four come in. In MLS those numbers are higher because of things like the SuperDraft, but the turnover for the Rapids was absolutely astounding in 2018/19.

During Hudson’s 43 matches in charge of the Rapids, a total of 32 players saw the field for 100 minutes or more. Of that group, a mind-boggling 24 of them were players that were brought in by Hudson. Two are homegrowns (Sam Vines, Cole Bassett) and two are SuperDraft picks (Niki Jackson, Andre Shinyashiki). The rest were mostly brought in through either MLS trades or traditional deals, with a heaping helping of foreign players brought in on TAM deals and making up the biggest names of the group.

He didn’t just take the team and start rebuilding it, he bulldozed it with complete confidence of the Front Office behind him and proceeded to play the guys he signed over everybody else available to him, results be damned. It was the managerial equivalent of Thanos snapping, saying “Eh, not enough”, and then snapping again a few more times until there was enough space for what he was looking to do. (I have never seen a Marvel movie, help.)

The list of players with the number of minutes played:
(An Asterisk indicates the player was on the team prior to Hudson’s arrival.)

  • Tommy Smith 3418
  • Jack Price 3395
  • Deklan Wynne 2456
  • Edgar Castillo 2440
  • Danny Wilson 2175
  • Kellyn Acosta 1712
  • * Dillon Serna 1689
  • Sam Nicholson 1677
  • * Axel Sjoberg 1676
  • Johan Blomberg 1665
  • Enzo Martinez 1406
  • * Dom Badji 1343
  • * Nana Boeteng 1236
  • * Kortne Ford 1141
  • * Marlon Hairston 1107
  • Jack McBean 1060
  • * Shkelzen Gashi 814
  • Kei Kamara 810
  • Keegan Rosenberry 810
  • Yannick Boli 768
  • Joe Mason 758
  • Cole Bassett 699
  • Nicolas Mezquida 622
  • Benny Feilhaber 603
  • Giles Barnes 543
  • Diego Rubio 542
  • Niki Jackson 448
  • Sam Vines 295
  • Kofi Opare 270
  • * Micheal Azira 275
  • Kip Colvey 208
  • Andre Shinyashiki 143

There are some eye-opening things to note in this list of players and minutes played. The top six on the list (and seven of the top eight, nine of the top 11) were all Hudson signings. Of past Rapids players, only Dillon Serna cracks the top eight, buoyed mostly by his promotion to starting left back this season. Names like Jack McBean and Sam Nicholson have over 1000 minutes played. Most of the top 10 are Hudson’s favorite flavor of player, European or New Zealand nationals. This is to say nothing of the actual talent shown by the guys like Wynne and Wilson, who have been roundly criticized for their play while being handed start after start. A whole series could probably be written on the actual results that those players threw down. Remember, Sjoberg was in the running for defender of the year under Mastroeni in 2016, but couldn’t find his way past those two into a starting CB spot at any consistent point under Hudson.

Edgar Castillo, my pick for the team’s best player last season, was jettisoned after 2018. He wasn’t alone; a few other Hudson signings and many remaining Mastroeni holdovers left as well. Some guys, like Mason, were let go part-way through the season for unknown reasons. This was in favor of filling the team with homegrowns and other varied signings that completely changed the structure and look of the team over and over.

Even with the new names like Rosenberry and Kamara sneaking up the list, the big names like Smith, Price, Wynne, and Wilson remained on the pitch for 2019 no questions asked, and big minutes started going to guys like Mezquida, another results-be-damned selection at attacking midfield.

As it stands right now, only four players (Serna, Sjoberg, Ford, Boeteng) remain on the Rapids from the 2017 season. Two haven’t seen a minute this season (though Ford is due to injury).

I am excluding the goalkeeper position from all this, where Tim Howard has been quietly mediocre the entire Hudson era while soaking up $2 million a season. If nothing else, a boon for the next Rapids manager will be Howard finally shuttling away to open both another DP spot and a big sum of cash while prodigal son Clint Irwin can finally reclaim the burgundy throne that never should have been taken from him in the first place.

In the end, we’re left with a hodgepodge mess of a roster full of mediocre international players on contracts far too big for their talent, aging stars who will assuredly be gone by the time the next good Rapids team comes around, and not-ready-for-primetime youngsters being put in the worst possible team situation you could think of for their formative years. Mastroeni left a bad, but workable, situation. It’s become a team that may need another two or three years to rebuild into something sustainable. This, ladies and gentleman, is Anthony Hudson’s legacy.

While I’m personally of the belief that Hudson was the one in charge of a large portion of the decision-making when it came to building the team in his tenure, it’s very concerning to see Padraig Smith completely untouched in this entire affair. Part of the reason I was convinced that Hudson would never be fired was because he was the signature signing of this Front Office. Hudson was brought in with great fanfare after a very publicized coaching search and was very clearly Smith, et al.’s big signing to show the fans that the long-rumored “Rapids Way” was finally arriving. I assumed that a flame-out of their manager would mean the swift end for the current Front Office, after too many years of Pablo had already soured things prior to Hudson’s arrival. Now we have another first-time former Rapids player at the helm and the exact same people behind Hudson launching another coaching search.

If there is any room for optimism, what’s striking is how the best players of the past two seasons seemed to arrive via MLS means and not traditional ones. Kellyn Acosta was brought in via a shrewd trade. Kei Kamara was brought in via trade during the expansion draft. They acquired a top Colorado-based goalscorer in the SuperDraft after making a move up. Were those moves that were less overseen by Hudson, who never seemed to know or care the rules of the league he was moving into? That would be base speculation.

How much of the flurry of signings was Hudson and how much was Smith? Smith has made poor decisions in the past with player signings. He engineered the Howard bonanza for a publicity on a team that desperately needed attacking talent. He was responsible for winger Stefan Aigner being brought in during a coachless period, and then signing a manager that was planning on using a style that eschewed wingers. Kamara and Feilhaber have looked good, but both are players with no stake in the future of this team, signings that would have made much more sense on a team going somewhere in the here and now instead of entering what looks to be a long-term rebuild. Next year, if both are gone and we’re still saddled with the likes of Wynne and Wilson, it will be hard to praise.

So while it’s good to see that the most obvious and necessary change has been made with Hudson finally, mercifully being relieved of his post, there’s a lot still left to be done. Hudson burned the place down and salted the Earth enough on his own, and until the entire front office has been removed as well or Smith begins to make moves that prove otherwise, I will continue to regard this Rapids team as little more than a bad team that a terrible manager made look worse.

On to you, MLS Cup MVP Casey Conor.