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What’s next for the Rapids attack?

With the departure of veteran striker Kei Kamara, a few questions have arisen.

MLS: San Jose Earthquakes at Colorado Rapids Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Over the weekend, veteran striker Kei Kamara was shipped to Minnesota United for $150,000 worth of General Allocation Money, as well as a second-round draft pick in 2022. The departure of the 36-year-old striker doesn’t necessarily come as a surprise, but it does create a few questions around the club.

The obvious first question is: Who will replace Kamara as the club’s striker?

The clear answer is forward Diego Rubio, who bagged 11 goals last season (compared to Kamara’s 14) and has two this season, both coming in the 5-0 drubbing of Real Salt Lake. Rubio seemingly already took the starting role off of Kamara this year, as he’s started six of the seven games since the MLS is Back Tournament, while Kamara had only started one. This is most likely due to Kamara dealing with an injury, but even so, it seems Rubio has made the striking role himself.

The other option up top is reigning MLS Rookie of the Year Andre Shinyashiki, who has spent most of his Rapids career as a left winger, but as head coach Robin Fraser says about Shinyashiki, “Andre is a player who is versatile, and he can be very helpful for us in different parts of the field, but in his heart of hearts, he’s a striker.” He added that “We have a lot of faith in Diego Rubio and Andre Shinyashiki.”

I have two thoughts about this.

First, is striker really the best role for these two players? Personally, I don’t think this is the strongest position for either of them. Rubio has seen the most success in burgundy playing behind Kamara as a supporting striker, and we haven’t yet seen Andre consistently play up top. Rubio brings a certain dynamism as well as clinical finishing when playing deeper, along with his ability to run off the target man, who was Kamara. Andre’s pace and smart runs make him an effective winger. Both miss the height and aerial acumen (although I’d argue Rubio is still quite good in the air) that Kamara offered and is known for.

A new signing doesn’t seem likely, so the Rapids will be riding Rubio and Shinyashiki up top for at least the rest of the season. Despite the success of Rubio in a deeper role, I still think he will thrive as Colorado’s head of the attack and won’t be missed, as Cole Bassett has made that position his own in recent weeks. Despite lacking Kamara’s height, Rubio is still good at finishing with his head, and, in my opinion, brings more to the attack than Kamara. He is better on the ball—both dribbling at opponents as well as combining with teammates—while also bringing more energy in the high press for the Rapids. A perfect example of this was his goal against Sporting Kansas City last March, where he tackled the ball off of Tim Melia and into the net.

As previously mentioned, Shinyashiki hasn’t played a ton of minutes up top in MLS, but it was his main position in college. Shinyashiki brings the pace to potentially run in behind an opposition’s defense and he also possesses great ability on the ball. He does lack Kamara’s and Rubio’s ability in the air; however, he is a smart finisher and is excellent at getting into open spaces.

On the topic of aerial ability, it seems that the departure of Kamara further accentuates the Rapids’ regression of danger on set pieces, with first Tommy Smith and now Kamara leaving. The Rapids do still have Danny Wilson, Lalas Abubakar, and Rubio, who have all proven themselves to be nuisances on corners, but it does feel as though the danger we pose on set pieces has been made a little less threatening.

There are a few players who also could play as a “false 9,” like Nicolas Benezet or even Nicolas Mezquida, but it seems Rubio and Shinyashiki are the answers up top for Colorado, and they face their next test on Wednesday against the San Jose Earthquakes.