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2022 Season Review: Lalas Abubakar

Colorado Rapids weren’t able to capitalize on the defender’s best moments in 2022.

MLS: Colorado Rapids at Nashville SC Casey Gower-USA TODAY Sports

This is the first in 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 Defender

Squad Status: Regular Starter

Season in a Sentence: Abubakar’s play regressed following a strong 2021 and the Rapids weren’t able to capitalize on the defender’s best moments in 2022.

Grade: C-

Individual regression was a prominent theme throughout the Colorado Rapids’ 2022, and Lalas Abubakar’s drop in form epitomized the club’s lapses in defensive consistency during 2021. Abubakar was often caught holding the bag when Colorado conceded soft goals, and he had particularly poor road outings against Los Angeles FC, Sporting KC, the New York Red Bulls, Nashville SC, and the LA Galaxy. His mistakes leading to opposition goals proved to be fatal for the Rapids by the end of the year, as the club only managed to earn points in the least important match of those five critical fixtures.

Abubakar’s fearlessly tenacious approach to defending has regularly veered into reckless territory during stages of his Rapids tenure. Colorado benefited from that style of play thanks to stronger midfield support in 2021, but the approach proved more fatal than advantageous for Colorado on aggregate across 2022.

The sale and ultimate departure of Auston Trusty also coincided with dips in form from both players, and the Rapids’ back line often ran into trouble when Abubakar and Danny Wilson played centrally in a back four. Aboubacar Keita’s season-ending injury and Gustavo Vallecilla’s struggles meant that Abubakar and Wilson were effectively written in pen on the team’s starting lineup, regardless of their current form. Without any reliable backup, Abubakar’s total minutes jumped from 1,921 in 2021 to 2,522 in 2022. That made his mistakes more frequent and noticeable, and his haphazardness led to a single-season career high of nine yellow cards—a figure tied for tenth among all players in MLS.

But for every one of his disappointing efforts, Abubakar typically delivered a standout showing in the opposite direction. The boom-or-bust defender picked out four goals during the season, and was essential in defense when the Rapids earned home wins against both Los Angeles clubs and the Seattle Sounders. Unfortunately, Colorado couldn’t capitalize when he scored—the club took a grand total of two points and zero wins from the four fixtures when Abubakar found the back of the net.

His four goals and 1.03 shot blocks per 90 were among the best figures recorded by MLS center backs in 2022, but Abubakar lagged behind the league in tackles won (0.57 per 90, 19th percentile), passes completed (39.22 per 90, 37th percentile), and dribblers contested (1.00 per 90, 38th percentile). While the Rapids had a positive goal differential across Abubakar’s matches for the club in 2019 (+5), 2020 (+9) and 2021 (+10), Colorado fell into the negatives with him on the pitch for the first time in the 2022 season (-5).

Looking Forward

Abubakar signed a long-term, team-friendly deal following the 2020 regular season that will keep him under contract through 2024, with a club-held option for 2025. He could very well remain a consistent figure in Colorado’s back line over the course of that stretch, but he’ll need to provide the team a more reliable week-to-week floor if the Rapids want to return to the postseason.

The Ghanaian would likely benefit from stronger competition at the back, especially if Robin Fraser intends on maintaining a three-at-the-back style next year. Fraser never called out Abubakar directly, but the manager still regularly derided “individual mistakes” in press conferences following the defender’s more egregious lapses. A fresh, versatile option in defense should be at the top of Fraser’s off-season wish list, even if Abubakar recovers his 2021 form.