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The Younes Namli Conundrum

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The Rapids and Namli face an uncertain future.

John A. Babiak - @Photog_JohnB

For as long as I can remember, the Colorado Rapids fanbase has been crying out for a Designated Player attacking midfielder, or “10.” From Juan Ramirez to Shkelzen Gashi to everyone in between, the club took some stabs at this problem, but never really found a good solution.

Until the winter before the 2020 season, the Rapids acquired Danish playmaker Younes Namli on a two-year loan from FC Krasnodar in Russia.

With his experience in the Champions League, along with top European leagues like the Eredivisie and the Russian Premier League, and a small loan fee of reportedly around $1 million, Namli seemed like another smart piece of business in a line of great deals by Executive Vice President & General Manager Padraig Smith.

And Namli was a success. While he didn’t put up incredible numbers in his first year — only two goals and three assists — his impact was noticed in almost every match.

Whether he was deployed in the center or at right wing, Namli’s slick dribbling and eye for a final pass undoubtedly improved the Rapids’ attack, and hopes were high coming into the 2021 campaign.

And then Namli injured his ankle in May and was forced to miss a large chunk of the season as he recovered from surgery that took place on June 6.

While Namli was recovering, the Rapids exploded, climbing within two points of first place in the Western Conference. The attack flourished, and the team went from being a playoff contender to being one of the top teams in the conference, competing for first place.

Namli played for the first time since early May on Sunday, Sept. 19 against the Vancouver Whitecaps, and looked lively, creating numerous chances. There’s no doubt that Namli will play a big part in the Rapids’ push for the top of the West, but after the season is done, Namli’s situation becomes uncertain.

As mentioned above, Namli is on a two-year loan, which is believed to have a purchase option included. Has Namli shown enough to justify the Rapids making his deal permanent? Do they even need him? These are the questions certainly on the mind of Padraig Smith as December inches ever closer.

Whether in midfield or out wide, Namli certainly makes a difference, but other players could likely replicate his production. In midfield, his creative presence could easily be replaced by Mark Anthony Kaye, who is also better defensively. While out wide, Namli will be competing with the likes of Michael Barrios, one of the best wingers in MLS this year, Andre Shinyashiki, Jonathan Lewis, and Braian Galvan, who’s in the midst of a breakout season.

Then the more practical side of his situation: the finances. The purchase option for Namli is almost certainly more than $1 million. (Transfermarkt puts the attacking mid’s value at $2.2 million.) Plus he has a team-leading $1.2 million salary. Not to mention, Namli occupies a Designated Player slot — the only DP on the Rapids’ roster. If Namli doesn’t return, that opens a DP slot and money to reinvest elsewhere, maybe left back (once Esteves’ loan expires), or striker.

Regardless of what his future holds, there’s no doubt Namli has had some magical moments in Burgundy, like his wonderful goal against Orlando in the 2020 home-opener, or his assist on Sam Vines’ first professional goal in the famed 5-0 win against Real Salt Lake last season.

Is it necessary for the Rapids to spend all this money on a player like Namli, whom Colorado have clearly succeeded without? Would you like to see Younes return for 2022?