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2022 Season Review: Felipe Gutiérrez

Gutiérrez arrived as a veteran mid-season reinforcement.

MLS: Colorado Rapids at Nashville SC Casey Gower-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, Deep-Lying Playmaker

Squad Status: In Negotiations

Season in a Sentence: Gutiérrez arrived as a veteran mid-season reinforcement to a bleeding Rapids midfield, but didn’t prove to be the difference-making acquisition the club needed to reach the playoffs.

Grade: B+

Faced with nagging injuries to Jack Price, disappointing performances from Bryan Acosta, and the recent departure of Mark-Anthony Kaye, the Colorado Rapids looked to Felipe Gutiérrez for answers during the Secondary Transfer Window. The Chilean International had put in a strong body of work across two seasons in MLS with Sporting KC as a Designated Player, but Gutiérrez returned to his home country after sitting out the 2020 season with injury. That set the stage for the Rapids to bring the veteran back to the states on a short-term loan to shore up the club’s hobbled midfield core.

Gutiérrez made his first appearance as a substitute in the first match where he was available for selection, replacing an injured Price in Colorado’s 4-3 victory over Minnesota United. The midfielder went on to feature in every one of the Rapids’ final 11 games—all but one as a starter. His utility as a flexible option in the center of the park provided a stabilizing floor in an area where the club struggled to maintain consistency in 2022.

The 32-year-old lined-up as a central connector between Acosta and Diego Rubio in Colorado’s midfield more often than not, though he occasionally joined Acosta as a double-pivot in a handful of matches where the club used two defensive midfielders. His ability as a creative shuttler helped the club produce chances for attackers in the final third, and Gutierrez proved to be one of MLS’s best midfield passers during his brief stint with the Rapids.

It’s not hard to understand how Gutiérrez won the trust of Robin Fraser. While Gutiérrez failed to earn any goals during his 840 minutes in the Rockies, that was mainly due to the midfielder’s sharp focus on unlocking the talent of Colorado’s attacking players. The Chilean boasted impressive per 90 metrics in progressive passing distance (330.75 yards per 90, 95th percentile), completed long balls (9.54 per 90, 99th percentile), key passes (2.04 per 90, 91st percentile), and shot-creating actions (3.96 per 90, 89th percentile). He finished the year with only two primary assists, but his per 90 average of 0.21 was still well-above the average MLS midfielder (82nd percentile) and right in line with his 0.20 expected assists per 90 (88th percentile).

He put up those imposing figures in distribution, all while showcasing his talent on the other side of the ball as one of MLS’s leading central midfielders in defensive play. Gutiérrez’s numbers in tackles won (1.71 per 90, 91st percentile), shot blocks (0.54 per 90, 95th percentile), interceptions (1.39 per 90, 81st percentile), and percentage of dribblers tackled (58.8%, 91st percentile) all outshone the MLS average.

But while Gutiérrez proved to be a useful signing for Colorado, his help really didn’t do much to improve the club’s chances of reaching the postseason. The Chilean shouldn’t be personally faulted for the failure, but the Rapids’ decision to bring him aboard came at the opportunity cost of adding a talent that could have helped the club resurrect their playoff hopes.

Update: After this article was originally posted, the club confirmed that Gutiérrez would not be returning to Colorado.

Looking Forward

Gutiérrez’ loan from CD Universidad Católica officially ended when Colorado’s season concluded at Q2 Stadium on Decision Day, and the veteran promptly returned to native Chile at the end of the year. While the Rapids’ Front Office has acknowledged that they are negotiating with the Chilean club to bring the midfielder back for 2023, Gutiérrez is reportedly on the books with Los Cruzados until the end of 2023. Signing him permanently would almost certainly require a transfer fee, and it would go against the club’s general transfer ethos to spend a significant sum to acquire a player that will turn 33 during the regular season.

If Colorado can negotiate a fee under $500,000 for Gutiérrez, then the club should take the opportunity—assuming that the Front Office can keep his salary around the same number. Doing so would allow the club to keep Gutiérrez’s cap impact below the D.P. threshold for the duration of his second stint in MLS.

Stats via FBref.