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2022 Season Review: Max

Colorado’s marquee off-season acquisition struggled during most of his appearances

MLS: Colorado Rapids at Austin FC Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports

This is part of a series of individual player reviews by Joseph Samelson. You can follow him on Twitter @jspsam and read his work elsewhere at josephsamelson.com.

Role: Central Midfielder, Attacking Midfielder

Squad Status: Rotation

Season in a Sentence: While Max showed glimpses of brilliance after arriving from Brazil, Colorado’s marquee off-season acquisition struggled during most of his appearances and couldn’t stake a claim for a starting role before the end of the season.

Grade: C-

Colorado Rapids supporters had plenty of reason to be optimistic when the club sprung to sign attacking midfielder Max Alves da Silva from Brazil’s Flamengo for a reported $1,000,000 fee last winter. The move was the culmination of the club’s long-term attempts to make inroads in the South American market and the result of several years’ worth of investment in scouting infrastructure throughout the continent. It marked an apparent shift from Colorado’s past international transfer activity to a focus on acquiring young players to develop, and reinforced the team’s public desire to focus on youth while playing a certain style of attacking soccer.

Inklings of the shift had already manifested in the Rapids’ moves to sign free agent Braian Galván from CA Colón (Argentina) and loan left back Lucas Esteves from Palmeiras (Brazil). But spending so much up front to add Max on a four-year contract indicated that the club really believed in the Brazilian’s talent. Days later, the team finalized moves which sent Kellyn Acosta to a conference rival and Cole Bassett to Feyenoord—decisions which appeared to voice the club’s confidence in Max’s ability to earn starting minutes.

Max looked like a quintessential “Distressed Asset” on paper. The Brazilian showed promising stints with Flamengo’s reserve team while in Brazil, but struggled to unseat the club’s starting midfielders when he earned the promotion to their first team. Colorado swooped in after he spent a brief loan stint with Cuiabá EC, and supporters got their first real glimpse of his ability when he featured off the bench against Comunicaciones in the Rapids’ Champions League opener in Guatemala.

He only had ten minutes to make his mark, but the creative and technically-gifted midfielder looked like one of the club’s most talented attackers during the final minutes of the match. Max generated Colorado’s best chance of the night in the 86th minute, and would have had an assist were it not for a well-timed block from Manuel Gamboa.

Max earned a start in the return fixture a week later and grabbed his first goal of the season as snow began to fall on Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. While the youngster’s effort wasn’t enough to see the Rapids through to the Quarterfinal, his performances were a bright spot amongst a team that couldn’t escape preseason mode against the Guatemalan giants. That fanned the optimistic flames surrounding the club’s marquee acquisition, and Max seemed ready to make a statement during the regular season.

The Brazilian was rewarded for his fine showing against Cremas with a starting spot in Colorado’s MLS opener against Los Angeles FC in California, but didn’t impress as Carlos Vela notched a hat trick in less than an hour. Robin Fraser called Max to the sidelines shortly after the host’s third goal, and the 21-year-old only managed to play 16 bench minutes across the Rapids’ ensuing four league fixtures. When Max finally got his chance to start again, he failed to show his creativity during another disappointing road loss against FC Dallas.

The same storied persisted throughout the season. While Max would occasionally show glimpses of brilliance and class with the ball, those moments were often counterbalanced by his struggles in passing, shooting, and work rate. He remained a substitute option for most of 2022, typically received spots starts to cover for injury and suspension, and only played 90 minutes twice for the first team. The club even dropped him down to Rapids 2 in MLS Next Pro during one bench-ridden mid-season stretch.

One of the central contributing factors behind Max’s poor play was due to his inability to nail-down a role in Fraser’s system—and not for lack of trying. The manager deployed the youngster as a winger, attacking midfielder, box-to-box midfielder, and a deep-lying playmaker during various stages of the season, but Max never looked truly at home in the club’s tactical setup. He was an excellent dribbler (1.49 per 90, 93rd percentile) and progressive passer (5.08 per 90, 86th percentile), but the Rapids weren’t able to benefit from his creative talents. He finished the year with only one primary assist in league play, and his 2.59 shot-creating actions per 90 (60th percentile) lagged behind most of his peers in the league. Max also didn’t display a lot of confidence under pressure (2.49 miscontrols per 90, 15th percentile; 1.00 time dispossessed per 90, 36th percentile) and lagged behind the league’s midfielders in most other passing metrics.

Looking Forward

Young players without MLS experience often face significant hurdles during their first year in the league, and Max was no different. However, with a contract through the 2025 season with a club-held option for 2026, it’s clear that Colorado is playing the long game with the young midfielder. His sophomore year with the club will be critical for his development, and his performances next season will likely provide a better perspective on his role with the club.

Supporters shouldn’t label the U-22 Initiative signing as a bust just yet, but Max’s future will undoubtedly hinge on his ability to lock down a consistent role in the first team. Fraser hasn’t yet correctly identified how to get the most out of the 21-year-old in the way he wants to play. Colorado previously faced similar issues incorporating former Designated Player Younes Namli into the team when he was healthy, and Fraser doesn’t really have a strong track record of utilizing creative midfielders effectively.

The silver lining to Max’s year was that he began showing substantial improvements down the final stretch of the regular season, especially in the club’s matches against FC Dallas and Austin FC to end the year. If that trajectory continues into next year and beyond, then few will remember the bumpy road that he faced during 2022. After one year in the trenches, the future should be all uphill.

Stats via FBref.