The World Cup is almost over. The 2023 MLS SuperDraft is next Wednesday, December 21. The first day of preseason is likely a month or less away. What then do the Colorado Rapids need to do between now and the season opener in February? Here are ten questions that will define the rest of the Colorado Rapids offseason.
1. Will they draft a player who can really contribute in MLS in 2023?
The Rapids currently have the 3rd overall pick (from Toronto via the Kaye trade) and 12th overall pick. The 2023 Generation Adidas class has not been announced yet, but there should be several available in the third pick.
Phillip Mayaka did not work out as Colorado’s pick at third in 2021. The Rapids haven’t picked an immediate contributor since 2019 Rookie of the Year Andre Shinyashiki. A third overall pick cannot be wasted. These two picks should lead to a rotational player who can contribute in 2023 and at worst a good MLS Next Pro starter. They’ve historically drafted for upside rather than by position of most need.
2. Will they sign another left back?
Steven Beitashour has been retained but will be 36-years-old when the season starts. Anthony Markanich was a rookie last year and wasn’t great in two of his three MLS appearances. Jackson Travis, the 18-year-old homegrown could be the future, but is not ready yet. They need to sign a left back in his prime. Brad Smith or Matt Real would be good signings within the league. Lucas Esteves departing opens up a U-22 spot. They could look for an off-the-radar South American player.
3. How will the long term injured players recover?
Four players sustained long term injuries during 2022. Braian Galván and Aboubakar Keita tore ACLs before the season start. Oli Larraz fractured his tibia and had surgery in March. Dantouma “Yaya” Toure tore his ACL back in August. Galván and Larraz both returned to limited training towards the end of the season.
Look for the first three to have a close to normal preseason. With other options at midfield and center back, Larraz and Keita will not be rushed if they’re taking their time. Toure likely won’t be ready to start the season. Galván had the earliest of these injuries and should be targeting starting the MLS season opener.
4. Is there a long term centerback inside the organization?
The defense collectively took a massive step back from 2021 to 2022. Every defender individually regressed. Danny Wilson and Lalas Abubakar are still starting caliber centerbacks in MLS, albeit flawed. Keegan Rosenberry is a reliable right back and sometimes center back. Gustavo Vallecilla was a disappointment for such a big purchase last year. Keita’s return from injury should provide competition. Mike Edwards is still in negotiations to re-sign with the club.
I think Edwards re-signs and the three compete in preseason to see who can be a viable third choice centerback. Robin Fraser will play either a 4-3-3 or 3-4-3 depending on the situation. He might lean on a back four early in the year. If one of those three young players don’t materialize by the summer, I think they go shopping.
5. Who will they sign as a third goalkeeper?
With Clint Irwin released and off the Minnesota, Colorado have just William Yarbrough and Abe Rodriguez under contract as first team goalkeepers. The Rapids could sign a consensus third string keeper to make up the numbers or someone with potential to replace Yarbrough long term. It could depend on how ready they feel Rodriguez will be in a year or two. Yarbrough has a team option for 2024. Either way, Yarbrough should be starting most MLS games this year with Rodriguez starting for Rapids 2.
6. Cole Bassett is not going back out on loan right?
The club terminated Cole Bassett’s loan to Fortuna Sittard early due to lack of playing time. Bassett has left the door open to going back to Europe in the near future. I don’t think he’s done enough in the Eredivisie or MLS to get another soft landing spot that wouldn’t be a step down. If he wants to go to Norway or League Two, there will be takers. I think he pretty clearly needs to reestablish himself in MLS and the Rapids will not let him go without good reason given the state of their midfield last year.
7. On that note, who will step up in midfield in preseason?
Jack Price should be healthy this year. That will move Bryan Acosta into his more natural No. 8 role. Galván will be healthy but could split time between a central midfield and a wide role. If Kévin Cabral plays as a center forward, Diego Rubio can boss the midfield again. Bassett can play at either No. 8 positions in front of Price.
Behind them, a healthy Larraz and Ralph Priso will provide depth. The club all but confirmed Felipe Gutiérrez will not be returning. There’s options here for Fraser, all of them young and hungry. One of them should step up. The question is who. I doubt the Rapids go after a veteran midfield signing because of this.
8. Do the Zardes and Cabral moves mean they are set at forward?
DP striker Gyasi Zardes has officially signed with Austin FC as a free agent. Last week the club traded for Kévin Cabral, a left winger who can play up top. Does Fraser play Cabral in his natural position or play him up top? Does Diego Rubio move back to center forward where they know he can put up numbers or keep him in midfield because he’s almost as productive there? Do they go after another forward?
Generally, one should be three deep at each position. Right now, the only true center forwards on the team are Rubio and 18-year-old Darren Yapi. I think the club signs another forward in the primary transfer window. Not a TAM or a DP forward. A cheaper veteran who can backup Rubio and mentor Yapi.
9. On that note, will Kévin Cabral get off to a good start?
This might be the Distressed Assets FC trade with the highest upside in Rapids history. Cabral’s coming to a team that will embrace him and show him their collective mentality. His confidence had to be at rock bottom with the way his season ended with LA Galaxy.
If they can help the 23-year-old achieve his potential in MLS, they’ll be getting DP production on a discount and could cash in if he’s sold abroad. Plus one-upping the Galaxy. If he can do that from the start of the year, it will answer several questions and make things simpler and easier around the club.
10. What homegrowns will make the jump to the first team to provide depth?
The Rapids lacked depth in 2022 thanks to four long term injuries. Sebastian Anderson and Larraz have been in and around the first team but have yet to get consistent minutes. Every other homegrown on this team has gotten peanut minutes if that. One of these players stepping up to be a 2019 Cole Bassett would be a huge boost to the club. It doesn’t look like there’s an MLS ready kid in the academy.