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State of the Colorado Rapids roster heading into 2021

Who are we bringing with us and who we are saying goodbye to as the Rapids turn to the 2021 season?

John A. Babiak - @Photog_JohnB

After a week of mostly dry news centering around contract discussions, expansion draft protections, and a trade that won’t fully be realized until the MLS SuperDraft in January, the Colorado Rapids roster is more or less set for 2021. Austin FC didn’t select anyone from Colorado in the Expansion Draft, so as we enter the offseason proper, who are we bringing with us and who we are saying goodbye to as we turn to the 2021 season?

Let’s break it down by position.

2021 COLORADO RAPIDS ROSTER (as of December 21, 2020)

Goalkeepers (3): Clint Irwin, Andre Rawls, Abraham Rodriguez

Defenders (10): Lalas Abubakar, Sebastian Anderson, Steven Beitashour, Kortne Ford, Jeremy Kelly, Drew Moor, Keegan Rosenberry, Auston Trusty, Sam Vines, Danny Wilson

Midfielders (8): Kellyn Acosta, Cole Bassett, Braian Galván, Nicolás Mezquida, Younes Namli, Jack Price, Will Vint, Collen Warner

Forwards (5): Nicolas Benezet, Matt Hundley, Jonathan Lewis, Diego Rubio, Andre Shinyashiki

Goalkeepers

As of right now, the de facto starting goalkeeper for the Rapids, William Yarbrough, is no longer with the team. He was brought in on a one-year loan deal from Club Leon in Liga MX, and that loan has since expired; however, the Rapids are in discussions around bringing him back, most likely on a permanent deal. I’d expect them to pull this off, as Yarbrough definitely proved that he was a starting-caliber keeper and the Rapids surely want him back permanently. He also wants to stay and I don’t think that he has much of a future back with Club Leon.

Assuming that a Yarbrough deal does indeed happen, Abe Rodriguez and Andre Rawls are both expected to spend probably most of their time with the Colorado Switchbacks again. Clint Irwin must be okay with being a back-up, as he was signed onto a two-year contract extension. Essentially, we’ll be looking at an identical keeper situation, which is honestly a very good thing for us.

Defenders

Lalas Abubakar was signed to a long-term contract through 2024 with a contract option for 2025. Few complaints can be made about this, as Abubakar has established himself as a great centerback, so I’m glad we’re getting our two-time defender of the year locked down to a long-term contract. Similarly, Auston Trusty was signed through 2023. This one is a bit more interesting to me. Personally, I see this as the Rapids saying that Trusty is the co-starting CB along with Abubakar as the long-term solution, but based on Trusty’s play rate, he hasn’t locked down that position yet.

Jeremy Kelly was also picked up for an additional year, as was Drew Moor. I’m totally fine with both of these, Kelly worked pretty well as a backup for Keegan Rosenberry and Moor brings a lot of veteran experience to the team. Sam Vines’ contract option getting picked up was easily one of the most ‘no duh’ extensions the team made. Interestingly, Steven Beitashour was also signed to an extension, despite not having played a single minute in 2020. I’m pretty neutral on him, it’s pretty clear that he is a back-up for Vines and is there for the veteran experience, so having him around for another year doesn’t make a huge difference one way or another.

In one of the most eyebrow-raising deals, Danny Wilson was not only re-signed, but to a two-year deal. This… is interesting. Based on what his last salary was (~$500k), he was one of the most expensive players on the roster and has been moved into a rotation role as opposed to a starting CB. The Rapids likely convinced Wilson to sign on to a much lower contract and/or got him a green card (or are working on it, at least). If he comes on cheaper or doesn’t take up an international roster slot (ideally both), then I’m okay with it. I still hope Trusty can level up and be the starter along with Abubakar, but Wilson isn’t a terrible option. I just don’t think he is a 34-game starter.

That leaves us with the question of Kortne Ford. He is still not on a clear schedule to return and hasn’t played a single minute in more than two years. I’d love to see him come back better than ever, but at this point, there are still a ton of questions about if he’ll ever be healthy enough to get back to playing in MLS. Hopefully, he can get some time with the Switchbacks to get him back to game fitness.

Sebastian Anderson should also be expected to get more time with the Switchbacks and might make a solid case for being a rotation right back, similar to how Vines established himself as our starting left back.

Midfielders

The core of the midfield is staying pretty dang solid for 2021. Jack Price and Kellyn Acosta are both back and will be expected to start practically every game. Cole Bassett, Younes Namli, and Nicolas Mezquida can all be in rotation for the coveted #10 position. We have wingers galore between Nico Benezet, Braian Galvan, Jonathan Lewis (who also signed a contract extension), and Younes Namli. Add in Andre Shinyashiki, who is a striker on paper but has spent more time as a left winger/striker hybrid this last year than an out-and-out striker, and that gives us five players vying for two positions.

Collen Warner was also given a two-year extension, which also came as a surprise. He played a handful of games this year and never really looked quite comfortable. Who’s to say what his role will be next season, but my guess is that he’ll be an occasional rotation/substitute player behind Acosta and Price.

My biggest question now is what will the contributions be from Galvan and Will Vint in the upcoming season. Galvan was supposed to be an absolute steal and seems like he could easily be a new starting-caliber winger eventually. He really shined in his limited time on the field last season, but is still a young player and hasn’t earned a starting spot yet.

Meanwhile, Will Vint was brought in from Atlanta United 2 as a Homegrown player and he actually signed for the Manchester United U15 team before having to leave due to family visa issues. He could be a sleeping giant for this team and he might also be starting to get minutes in 2021.

Forwards

Andre Shinyashiki’s option was picked up for 2021, which absolutely makes sense to me. He’s still young and has been getting a lot of minutes, even if his production wasn’t quite at where it was during his rookie year. Picking up his option was like picking up Vines’ option—a total no-brainer for the team.

The problem is, that leaves just him and Diego Rubio as our only proper forwards on the roster. Benezet, Galvan, and Lewis are all listed as being forwards along with Mezquida who is listed as a forward/midfielder, but functionally they all have been played more as wingers or attacking midfielders than straight-up strikers. I still have faith in Rubio and Shinyashiki, but even Shinyashiki has been played more as a winger. That pretty much leaves Rubio as our only proper striker.

Matt Hundley is still a huge question mark to me, as he has been out on loan and has only scored three goals over just shy of 40 games. Could he somehow explode in 2021 and become a starting, double-digit goal-scoring machine? Sure. Is that likely? Probably not. I put Hundley in the same category as Will Vint—could start to see time on the field this year and could shine, but it’s all dependent on Fraser’s squad rotation and how ready they are to step up to the plate.

I don’t think our striker situation is necessarily a problem right now. A team doesn’t need a true striker if the wingers are capable of putting in the goals. But Padraig Smith has hinted that a striker is coming (more on that later). Either way, the strikers on the roster aren’t bad and with the hinted promise of an additional striker on the way, things look like a good foundation for the coming season.

Players leaving: Niki Jackson, Abdul Rwatubyaye, Deklan Wynne. (Honorable mention to William Yarbrough, but again I expect him to be back.)

Only three players will be departing the team as of right now, with the caveat that on paper Yarbrough is leaving too but I expect him to return. Honestly, I’m not disappointed about losing any of the other three.

While Jackson showed some promise in 2018, he didn’t manage to make a case for us to hold on to him, especially as we have more and more Homegrowns who look to have a better chance of earning first-team minutes. Plus, he tore his ACL to start 2020 and coming off of an injury like that isn’t easy.

Rwatubyaye—from what I’ve heard at least—has been pretty decent for the Switchbacks but not having eyes on him, I also feel like our defender situation is pretty solid without him.

Having Wynne leave feels entirely expected as well. He hasn’t appeared for the team in any major role in two years and I sincerely doubt that he would be getting minutes in 2021 given the rest of the roster.

I wish the best of luck to the three for their careers, whether they be in MLS, USL, or elsewhere.

So… what does that mean for 2021?

Well, safe to say that we are likely to still see a few changes. The Rapids made a deal with Chicago Fire to get the 6th overall first-round pick in the 2021 SuperDraft in exchange for $125K in GAM, which almost assuredly means Smith has someone in mind who will get signed to a deal.

In 2019, we got Shinyashiki in the draft (and he was MLS Rookie of the Year that season) and brought in Jeremy Kelly from the 2020 draft. While the draft has been becoming less and less important and is being reduced to only three rounds, there are still gems to be found and the Rapids historically have done well with their picks. Colorado currently holds picks #6 and #15 in the first round and anything beyond that is pretty much just noise. I wouldn’t be surprised if we turn around and sell one of those draft picks (most likely to Austin FC) but I am still guessing that the team has someone in mind.

Padraig also mentioned that the team is looking for a striker. This makes sense to me, we are a little light on strikers and he did trade Kei Kamara to Minnesota United last year. We’ll need someone to come in, hopefully a starter and double-digit scorer and maybe even a DP-level player. Which of those, if any, we’ll get is still completely up in the air right now. Based on what the team has said and the players that are on the roster, this is probably going to be the only major signing before next season begins.

Trades are always on the table, as are selling players. The Rapids fanbase is collectively expecting Cole Bassett to be sold to some European team for a big paycheck eventually, and Sam Vines might be on the same track. For now, we’re glad to have them though and if they are on the roster for next year, I’d expect both of them to get significant playing time. Diego Rubio also has been rumored off and on to be getting international interest, but I’d be surprised if we sold or traded him without bringing in a striker to replace him in addition to the striker previously mentioned.

Overall though, this roster is functionally the same as we had through 2020, minus Kamara. This, to me, says two main things. One, the Rapids are playing it safe amidst the COVID-influenced market. Going with what you know might be a better idea than trying to go after an unknown.

Second, and much more importantly, Fraser still sees these guys as championship caliber. The biggest issue the Rapids had this season was all the stopping and starting and not playing well after the breaks. If MLS can have a “normal” season next year, that start-stop shouldn’t be an issue, and if the team plays as well as they did when they were in form in 2020, then we have no reason to think that they won’t be back in the playoffs and in a position to compete.

So what do you think here? Are you expecting to see the roster change much prior to the start of next season? Do you think the Rapids have made smart choices with their contract renewals and extensions? Who do you think the team might be trying to bring in during the offseason?