With a rocky MLS is Back Tournament and an even rockier start to the rest of the regular season on Saturday night, the Colorado Rapids clearly have some things to work on as they prepare for a quick turnaround and trip to play FC Dallas on August 26th.
My concern for Wednesday isn’t so much about Dallas, though—it’s about our own team.
There are three main questions I think the team needs to answer.
1. Why is our defense such an issue?
Against Real Salt Lake, our back four included Sam Vines, Lalas Abubakar, Danny Wilson, and Keegan Rosenberry, plus William Yarbrough in net. On paper, that should be a better defense than we got.
In the offseason, the Rapids acquired Auston Trusty from the Philadelphia Union. A young CB who has been on the fringe of the US Men’s National Team and managed to play every single minute for the Union in 2018. We acquired him on a multi-year deal worth a minimum of $600,000 in a combination of GAM and TAM, with that figure potentially rising by an additional $150k in GAM in 2021 based on certain—albeit undisclosed—performance metrics in the 2020 season. At the time, it was assumed that he would be a starter, alongside Abubakar. We cannot afford to potentially pay $750k for someone to ride the bench.
But, alas, Trusty has yet to see a start. Drew Moor has been given the starting position several times, as well as Danny Wilson (who in my opinion, is still is a liability in the position). How can Trusty, a person who was an every-minute player in 2018, drop to a fourth-tier CB for a team that has problems on defense? Letting in four goals in one half is atrocious and defense seemed to be an issue throughout all of this season. Why has Abubakar seemed to lapse slightly? Why is Wilson getting the start? And most importantly, why has Trusty not earned a starting position yet?
2. Why is our DP playing out of position?
Last offseason, Colorado also acquired Younes Namli, who currently is our only Designated Player. He was brought in on loan from FC Krasnodar in Russia and was reportedly going to become our new #10. In the last few games, however, he has been played as a right wing. While it isn’t necessarily a position that he can’t play, he definitely prefers being in that #10 position. In Russia, he was routinely played on the right wing, which is part of what led him to wanting to leave the team.
It is no secret that the Rapids have been needing a lethal #10 for years now and at the start of the season, Namli looked pretty good at that position. But based on the RSL game, the coaching staff thought it better for him to play as the right wing and let Nicolas Mezquida get the start as the 10.
We have Jonathan Lewis, Andre Shinyashiki, Nicolas Benezet, and Braian Galvan available to play on the wings. In the 10 spot, we really only have Namli as a consistent starting option. While I like Mezquida, I consider him to be a better sub than a starter. If we want to get this train back on track, I think Namli is going to need to be a consistent starter for the #10 role, let alone to justify his DP status.
3. Are our problems solvable without structural changes?
This is a difficult question for this organization, but one that I do think needs to be asked. We haven’t won the Rocky Mountain Cup since 2015. Four seasons without it even being close, and barring a biblical miracle, 2020 will make it five. We haven’t made the playoffs since 2016. Despite our owner being absurdly wealthy, he has failed to give this team the financial support it needs and deserves. While players are being brought in for tens of millions of dollars and high-profile players are being linked to numerous MLS teams, the rumor mill has remained silent, and there are no signs any time soon of the Rapids signing a second DP.
The second half of 2019 was exciting. Thrilling, even. Once Anthony Hudson was gone and Conor Casey helped the team get their first win of the season, the Burgundy Boys started getting points at an insane rate. We were fighting for a playoff position on the very last game of the season, which after 10 games without a win seemed like an impossibility. The offseason into 2020 seemed to be adding fuel to that fire, with Robin Fraser looking to be a quality coach and signing several very promising players. Benezet, Namli, Trusty, and Galvan all seem like they should be decent starting options.
But, here we are, once again worried that 2020 is going to be a return to the form that we have a reputation for, rather than a reputation that we want.
I don’t think that the rest of the season is already awash, but there are problems with the team as-is. Losing 1-4 at home against RSL in the first round of the Rocky Mountain Cup, especially in a game that everyone involved knows the stakes of, is unacceptable. The fact that our rivals consider us a joke is unacceptable. The fact that we have not won against our rivals in years is unacceptable. The fact that we have not won in Utah’s stadium ever is unacceptable. But the fact that we do not see a convincing sign that that is to change any time soon is un-bloody-acceptable.
I’m not suggesting that the rest of the season is already consigned to that dark part of the Rapids history (read: most of it) that people are going to want to forget as soon as it happens. Rather, I’m suggesting that if we don’t see a return to the second half of 2019 form that we started to get a taste of for these remaining five games, we may need to start bracing ourselves for another year of disappointment. A disappointment that we are sadly all too familiar with.
Let’s be honest here: Without Altitude working out a deal through Comcast/Dish, the vast majority of us can’t even watch the games on TV at home. Thanks to COVID-19, many of us can’t or don’t feel comfortable watching games at bars or restaurants; nor can we see any of the games in person.
The Rapids absolutely need to give us a reason to return to the stadium in 2021… and based on the current state of the team, what we’ve got right now isn’t good enough.
Editor’s Note: Robin Fraser answered some of these questions on the media call today. Read more here.