While most of the discourse surrounding the 2023 Colorado Rapids season has rightfully centered around the new faces joining the first team, there’s plenty of reason for supporters to be optimistic for the club’s future.
Thanks to the organization’s long-term strategy to build out the academy and MLS’s decision to reestablish a reserve league by starting MLS Next Pro, young Rapids players have been able to earn more meaningful minutes than ever before. That’s given supporters and Certified American Soccer Sickos™ the chance to watch rising local stars make their professional debuts in intimate settings.
This list is designed to highlight the players straddling that line between Rapids 2 and the first team, and should give you a solid understanding of the club’s current prospect pool (that’s why Cole Bassett—an expected first team starter—isn’t here). To qualify, players must be 21 or younger and must have signed a contract with either the Rapids or Rapids 2. Amateur players are eligible so long as they aren’t currently playing with college teams.
We’re kicking things off with some notable entries that just missed the cut. First, 17-year-old academy player Keith Chavarria played 50 substitute minutes in three matches for Rapids 2 after getting a nod to the MLS Next All-Star Game last year. He’s a name that supporters should keep an eye on in the future. Blake Malone, a 21-year-old defender will look to add to his 1,359 MLS Next Pro minutes during his sophomore year with R2. He’ll attempt to bolster his partnership with Michael Edwards, who’s barely over the arbitrary age limit to qualify for this list.
There’s also 16-year-old academy goalkeeper Adam Beaudry. Like Chavarria, Beaudry got selected to participate in the MLS Next All-Star Game last year. He’s received multiple call-ups to the US U-17 National Team, and got his first minutes with Rapids 2 in a 2-1 win over the Wolves Under-21s in the MLS Next Pro Invitational last year. Beaudry just misses the list because he’s behind a fellow academy product in the R2 goalkeeping pecking order, who conveniently opens the top 10.
10. Abraham Rodriguez, 20 years old
Abe Rodriguez is the presumed starting goalkepeer for Rapids 2 this season, but it’s not out of the question to think that the youngster might lose his spot to the highly-touted Beaudry in the near future.
While Rodriguez benefitted from the introduction of MLS Next Pro last season, the homegrown keeper had a middling year for Colorado’s reserves. He excelled defending the posts during penalty shootouts, but the 20-year-old conceded 44 goals in 17 starts for R2.
Things might get a bit easier in Rapids 2’s second year. The team will welcome multiple defenders back from long-term injuries this season, and a handful of additional arrivals could keep Rodriguez less busy in goal. He’s been praised for his leadership by R2 manager Erik Bushey, but the 5’8” keeper will need to improve his shot-stopping from the run of play if he wants to vault his way into first team conversation.
9. Daouda Amadou, 20 years old
It took Daouda Amadou a few weeks to earn a spot in Bushey’s squad last year, but the Cameroonian Youth International ultimately became a mainstay for Rapids 2 after joining the reserves on loan from the Czech Republic’s MFK Vyskov.
The versatile midfielder earned three man of the match awards in his 15 MLS Next Pro appearances—ten of them starts. He recorded three assists and exhibited an impressive motor in midfield across over a thousand minutes. While raw, he demonstrates intensity and purpose with the ball. There were times when his 5’3” frame let him down against the more physical players in the league, but Amadou showed an ability to drift out to the wings and beat players on the dribble.
Amadou was also strong when asked to press for Rapids 2, and did well to set up Philip Mayaka’s game-winning goal against one of the better teams in MLS Next Pro during R2’s last home match of the season:
Philip Mayaka’s game winning goal for Rapids 2 tonight: pic.twitter.com/EVFNoZunKg— Joseph Samelson (@jspsam) September 12, 2022
Rapids 2 didn’t retain the majority of players who signed MLS Next Pro-specific agreements last season, but something about Amadou clearly caught Brian Crookham’s eye. The R2 General Manager made a point to extend Amadou’s loan through the 2023 summer transfer window in early January, and the youngster looks like he’ll be a regular starter MLS Next Pro this year.
8. Jackson Travis, 18 years old
Jackson Travis, the Rapids’ sole first team academy signing of 2022, had a rough start to his professional career. The Mississippi native had fought his way into a starting left back role with Rapids 2 following injuries to the team’s starting outside backs, and assisted twice in R2’s first regulation win of the year.
After his seventh appearance on May 29, Travis appeared on R2’s injury reports as out with an undisclosed injury. A few months later, Colorado confirmed that he underwent successful surgery to reprair a core muscle injury. The surgery ended Travis’ chances for 2022, but the youngster returned to first team training and has featured for the Rapids in their preseason scrimmages in Mexico.
Travis projects to be an attack-minded wing back with a strong left foot. He can cross the ball well, but struggles defending swift-footed attackers on the wings. The Rapids have officially signed 25-year-old Australian left back Alex Gersbach to replace Lucas Esteves in the short-term, but Travis could very well project to be the club’s long-term answer at the position. Travis is on contract with the Rapids through the 2025 season, and Colorado can extend his deal through 2027 if they wish.
7. Oliver Larraz, 21 years old
Like Travis, the injury bug hasn’t been kind to Denver native Oliver Larraz. The versatile midfielder missed all of 2022 after breaking his leg in preseason, but he should be due for a resurgence in 2023. Colorado’s decision to exercise the first of two team-held options in his MLS contract last season indicated that the club was confident in his ability to recover, and Larraz has since featured in the Rapids’ preseason scrimmages in Mexico.
He should be able to get back to full sharpness by playing with Rapids 2 during the spring, but still needs to prove that he can hack it at the MLS level. Aside from 24 minutes in MLS, Larraz has exclusively applied his trade in the lower divisions. His primary goal this year should be getting as much game time as possible—he’s never cracked more than 750 minutes in a year as a professional.
Larraz faces an uphill climb for first team action, but the youngster’s versatility and experience playing multiple midfield roles could see him eventually force Fraser’s hand. He played much of 2021 season at wing back on loan with Landon Donovan’s San Diego Loyal, but it’s not entirely certain where he’s positionally going to fit in with R2.
6. Dantouma Toure, 18 years old
The only reason Dantouma “Yaya” Toure doesn’t crack the top five is because his status for most of 2023 is uncertain following his late-season ACL tear in 2022.
After experiencing a breakout year in MLS Next Pro in which he led Rapids 2 in scoring, the 18-year-old Guinea native and US Youth International earned a handful of cameo appearances off the bench for the senior team late last year. He nabbed his first top flight goal for the Rapids by scoring the decider against his former club, and was destined for more minutes had he not sustained an unfortunate injury against the Columbus Crew a week later.
YAYA TOURE'S FIRST @MLS GOAL!!#RBNYvCOL pic.twitter.com/MXTtqlJxcG— Colorado Rapids (@ColoradoRapids) August 3, 2022
Toure underwent successful surgery to repair his ACL, as well as his medial and lateral meniscus, last August. The Rapids didn’t announce a timetable for his return, but similar injuries have kept players out for 9-12 months. It’s possible he could earn some spot minutes late in 2023, but all signs currently point to the swift-footed winger making a true comeback in 2024. At 18, Toure should have plenty of time to return to the standard he showed in 2022. He’s got the physical toolkit to be a menacing forward in MLS, and he’s been clinical in front of goal for Rapids 2.
If Toure can bring his energy and technique back to the senior team following his recovery, the sky’s the limit on his potential. Colorado could potentially keep him on the books through the 2026 season if they exercise their team-held options in his contract.
5. Sebastian Anderson, 20 years old
It’s arguably put-up or shut-up time for Sacramento native Sebastian Anderson, who’s entering the final guaranteed year of his contract in 2023. The promising wing back made headlines as the youngest professional athlete in Denver when he signed with Colorado as a 16-year-old back in 2019, but injuries have hobbled his first few seasons as a professional.
Anderson missed all but one match of the 2020 season after undergoing surgery to repair his meniscus, and has been stuck playing lower division ball ever since. While he put in strong performances for Rapids 2 last year before becoming a key player in the Switchbacks’ playoff run, injuries still kept him out for a spell.
Colorado could exercise their sole option in Anderson’s contract at the end of the year if he has a good season, but Robin Fraser has rarely given the wing back consistent time with the first team. That could be changing, as the Rapids have been giving him a fair shot during the 2023 preseason. He’s started in every one of the club’s first three closed-door scrimmages—is this the year he finally earns a role in meaningful competition?
4. Robinson Aguirre, 18 years old
Robinson Aguirre was one of the most promising faces to emerge from Rapids 2’s inaugural season. The Fairfax, Virginia native and Rapids Academy product played 1,265 minutes in MLS Next Pro last year as the team’s primary fulcrum in midfield.
He was the second-most accurate passer on the team (minimum 5 appearances) behind defender Michael Edwards, and only Anderson completed more crosses during the season. Aguirre won the right to take corners and other set pieces in Bushey’s offense, and the Salvadoran-American’s ability soon invited comparisons to Jack Price.
Aguirre is impressively calm on the ball for his age, and he’s arguably the best distributor among the 2004 class. It’s no surprise that El Salvador boss and former USMNT midfielder Hugo Pérez rewarded the youth international with his first two senior caps in 2022. Fraser also tapped Aguirre to join the club for their preseason trip to Mexico, and he’s since been able to earn a healthy amount of reps with the first team.
The 18-year-old signed an amateur contract with Rapids 2 last season, and is eligible to retain that status for another three seasons. Unless Colorado qualifies for an injury-based hardship exemption, Aguirre would need to sign a first team contract in order to represent the club in MLS.
Assuming Aguirre continues playing with R2 in 2023, he’ll be joined by fellow Salvadoran-American Marlon Vargas—a 22-year-old attacking midfielder that got selected to the 2022 MLS Next Pro Bext XI with the Tacoma Defiance following a 13g 6a season. On paper, the two should make for a compelling, must-watch midfield partnership during the reserve team’s second season.
3. Daniel Chacón, 21 years old
The only active World Cup veteran on contract in the Rapids’ organization is 21-year-old Daniel Chacón, who just finished representing his native Costa Rica during the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar.
Chacón signed a Rapids 2 professional deal last summer after his contract with Costa Rica’s Cartaginés expired. The youngster originally made his professional debut at 16 for the Cartago-based club, and made over 105 appearances in the Costa Rican top flight before Crookham swooped in to get Chacón on Colorado’s MLS Next Pro roster last July.
Crookham says it was a priority for Chacón to be in "the best possible position to earn a spot on Costa Rica’s World Cup roster."— Joseph Samelson (@jspsam) July 15, 2022
He adds: "Dani is going to be a part of the Rapids organization for the long term, and we look forward to his future contributions to the club."
The Rapids loaned Chacón back out to Cartaginés for the buildup to the winter World Cup, so the 21-year-old has yet to make his much-anticipated debut in Burgundy. He’s well-known for his ability to ping long passes from the back, and he’s poised to be a significant contributor for Rapids 2 at center back and defensive midfield this year.
Like Aguirre, Fraser also rewarded Chacón with a coveted “call-up” to the first team’s Mexico-based preseason camp. Considering his international experience and professional pedigree in the third-best league in North America, Colorado’s probably betting big on Chacón’s ability to prove his worth and move up the ranks after a spell in MLS Next Pro. His path to a potential first team deal could prove difficult with Andreas Maxsø now in the mix at defense, but the Rapids’ back line did themselves few favors last year. If Chacón performs well for R2 and Fraser’s MLS defenders continue to bleed goals, he may be the next to force his way in.
2. Ralph Priso, 20 years old
Colorado’s mid-2022 decision to ship Mark-Anthony Kaye to Toronto FC for $1.025 million in General Allocation Money also landed the club well-known Canadian youth phenom and Toronto academy product Ralph Priso.
The Rapids were quick to hand Priso first team minutes in the form of two consecutive starts, but Fraser soon showed his preference for Felipe Gutiérrez as a third midfielder. Priso managed a handful of substitute appearances, but ended up playing more minutes in MLS Next Pro than with the Rapids’ first team during the final stretch of the year.
Priso’s time with Toronto and spot minutes with Colorado in MLS indicate that he has the potential to be a great defensive midfielder. With Collen Warner’s departure and Bryan Acosta’s contract up at the end of 2023, Priso should theoretically have a clearer path to more first team action in the long-term. Even if he doesn’t become a consistent starter this year, the promising midfielder should be due for more rotational minutes thanks to Colorado’s congested schedule.
1. Darren Yapi, 18 years old
Scoring goals is a great way to get to the top of a list like this, and Darren Yapi has been electric for the Rapids during preseason in 2023. He got his third in three scrimmages on Sunday against Querétaro—his fifth friendly goal with the first team since 2022.
Yapi’s coming off a breakout year with Rapids 2, where he scored six goals in 15 starts. Fraser rewarded him for the strong season with a handful of late substitute appearances and a start in Decision Day against Austin.
Attention Rapids fans:— Joseph Samelson (@jspsam) January 20, 2023
It's not too late to get on the Darren Yapi hype train. But it leaves the station very soon. pic.twitter.com/oUrp9aN40i
But goals aren’t the only thing that Yapi has in his favor. Among all the players on this list, Yapi has the easiest path to first team minutes. Besides Diego Rubio and Calvin Harris, Colorado doesn’t have any other natural center forwards on their MLS roster. Yapi shares a lot of the same skills with the target forwards that have previously played well alongside the Chilean international, and he’s talented enough to break into Fraser’s team. The Rapids gave him a contract that could extend through the 2026 season, so he’s got plenty of time to carve out a place in the squad.
The biggest question for Yapi is whether he can become a dominating aerial presence in the box. His heading was arguably his biggest weakness in his MLSNP performances last season. If he can get the confidence to battle strong defenders inside the 18, he could become an elite finisher destined for greener pastures beyond MLS.