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2021 Downstream Game 1: Away to FC Dallas

The Colorado Rapids are heading to Frisco for the season opener.

SOCCER: MAR 23 MLS - Colorado Rapids at FC Dallas Photo by Matthew Visinsky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

FC Dallas Stats

2020 Record: 9-7-6 WLT, 34 points for 1.56 PPG

Goals: 28 for, 24 allowed, +4 differential

Postseason: Lost to Seattle 0-1 in the Western Conference Semifinals

We’re back! After a mostly successful 2020 and a quiet but productive offseason — and what seems to be the longest offseason in history — we’re ready for a new season. The Rapids have undeniably approached the upcoming season with a stronger foundation and a readiness to fight. We start the season with a road trip to Dallas followed by the home opener against newcomers Austin FC.

Starting the season off strong is important, so how do our opponents look, and more importantly, how do we look?

FC Dallas is continuing their trend of making their academy products and SuperDraft signings become superstars. They made headlines by selling defender Bryan Reynolds to AS Roma, and they loaned Brandon Servania to SKN St. Polten, a team in the Austrian Football Bundesliga. They also loaned another homegrown player, Justin Che, to Bayern Munich II. That’s a pretty good amount of success for their academy, not to mention that Chris Richards has been playing for Bayern Munich’s senior team and with Hoffenheim on loan and Reggie Cannon is playing in Portugal for Boavista.

While Dallas has largely been pushing for being a selling club, that isn’t to say that they’re always doing that. What feels like an addition to their roster is the return of Paxton Pomykal. The 21-year-old midfielder had to undergo surgery and is just coming off of recovery, but the 2019 All-Star is still considered to be one of the top prospects in the league. Pomykal and Cannon have both been cases where Dallas has been able to produce MLS starting-caliber players on the cheap. Who knows what other players might be on their roster, players but could explode if given the opportunity to play.

Other additions for Dallas include the re-signing of Phelipe Megiolaro on loan, Jose Antonio Martinez from SD Eibar, Jader Obrian from Rionegra Aguilas, and Szabolcs Schön from MTK Budapest. If you’re sitting there wondering who the heck these players are... yeah, me too. These aren’t the type of signings like Inter Miami is always linked to, with attention-grabbing headlines. Instead, Dallas likes to quietly build from within and supplement with a few key signings from the international market.

So, in short, they’ve been pushing for continuing this trend, but that has exposed a few problems for them. Dallas has been consistently good the last few years, but they’ve been missing that something to take them to the next level. They’ve been playoff caliber, but haven’t quite managed to elevate to the levels of a Seattle, an LAFC, or a Toronto.

This problem is highlighted by their performance last year on offense — 28 goals for is below average for the league, and even though the Rapids played four fewer games than them last year, we scored four more goals. Their strength has been their defense, which only allowed 24 goals. No offseason signing really suggests that that’s going to change, so one big question for them is, similar to the one for us, where will the goals come from?

Our opponents are likely to pose a decent challenge, but far from an insurmountable one. The Rapids have had a pretty interesting offseason and look to take the next step as a team. How do things look as we get back to the field?

The Rapids have heavily leaned on the “evolution, not revolution” type offseason since unceremoniously getting knocked out of the playoffs in the first round. We haven’t really lost substantial players, having only departed with Niki Jackson, Deklan Wynne, and Abdul Rwatubyaye. None of the three had any MLS minutes in 2019, and only Jackson and Wynne had any time with the senior minutes to begin with. But the additions to the Rapids have been fairly substantial and, in my opinion, more than make up for their loss.

In one of two big trades in the offseason, we traded an international roster spot and some SuperDraft pick shuffling for Michael Barrios. He’d been playing for Dallas since 2015, leaving as their second all-time leader in goals and assists with 75. To me, this has been a bit of an eyebrow-raiser, as Barrios seems like the kind of player that Dallas needs right now, while the Rapids have a plethora of strikers available. But, their loss is our gain. Barrios’ performance during the preseason matches has suggested that he’ll be given substantial amounts of playing time. I’m very excited to see what he can bring to the team.

Then there’s a player that feels like an addition but has been on the roster for years: Kortne Ford. The man has been injured and effectively sidelined for all of the last two seasons, but has finally seen some playing time during preseason. I hope that Ford returns strong, as he is still the defining local story that the fanbase can rally behind. During preseason, Ford looked healthy and happy to be back on the field.

The remainder of the additions to the Rapids roster comes from homegrown players and one key SuperDraft signing. After some wheeling and dealing, the Rapids got Philip Mayaka from the third overall pick in the first round of the draft. He had some hype built up around him before the draft, with many pundits saying he would go first overall. His Clemson coach also called him the “most MLS-ready player” that he had ever worked with, which says a lot since Robbie Robinson went first in last year’s draft.

The other four additions were all homegrown signings: defender Michael Edwards, midfielder Oliver Larraz, and forwards Yaya Toure and Darren Yapi.

Edwards and Mayaka, along with Seb Anderson, Abe Rodriguez, and Matt Hundley, all were sent out on loan to the Colorado Springs Switchbacks, while Andre Rawls and Jeremy Kelly went to Phoenix Rising. Unlike some players and loans, I see the majority being productive for all parties. I am excited to see Mayaka in particular, as it seems like he’ll be a key player to step in for Cole Bassett, who will presumably be missing some playing time due to national team call-ups. The question of the international roster spot is still there, but those are sold and traded constantly so I’m sure the Rapids have a plan for him. They wouldn’t make deals and spend that kind of money to simply have someone out on loan.

Part of the season why I wanted to discuss the state of both teams is that I see a lot of similarities between our teams. Dallas has been a standout in MLS for developing a world-class academy and being able to sell those types of players. They don’t go out of their way to sign big-name expensive players, but rather focus on a few choice selections to bolster their team. They try and #PlayTheKids, and it has paid off for them. Sound familiar?

In general, I feel like the Rapids are trying to emulate Dallas. Perhaps with a splash of SKC in the mix as well. The Rapids’ academy is starting to produce some serious talent, with the two highlights being Bassett and Vines. Signing Edwards, Larraz, Toure, and Yapi — along with having already signed Rodriguez, Anderson, Ford, and Hundley — goes a long way to showing the Rapids’ confidence in their academy system and the players it is producing. With the bulk of their roster being homegrowns, that has left both teams in a place where they strategically augment their roster with a few key players from MLS and the international market. They don’t sign the famous players like Miami or LA Galaxy, but instead go for cheaper but nonetheless impactful players.

The question for both the Rapids and Dallas is “can they keep the momentum up?” Not just from last year for making the playoffs, but the momentum of their academy programs? Can both teams, without significant investment for DPs or big transfer fees, achieve success? It seems like the answer for both teams is “yes,” and the season opener will be a great opportunity to put both teams up against as a measure of their development.

The season officially kicks off for our Burgundy Boys (though they’ll likely be wearing the new green away kits) on Saturday, April 17th at 6:00 p.m. MT. Let’s watch the game and support the team, and hope that the season doesn’t bring as many surprises as 2020 did.