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Analysis: Last Year’s Demons Reemerge in Colorado’s Season-Opening Loss Against Seattle

Despite new additions, the Rapids haven’t yet woken up from the nightmare of 2022

SOCCER: FEB 26 MLS - Seattle Sounders FC vs Colorado Rapids
SEATTLE, WA - FEBRUARY 26: Seattle Sounders midfielder Cristian Roldan (7) celebrates his first half goal during an MLS match between the Seattle Sounders and the Colorado Rapids on February 26, 2023 at Lumen Field in Seattle, WA.
Photo by Jeff Halstead/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Colorado Rapids are back, but the team’s 4-0 blowout loss to the Seattle Sounders on MLS’s opening weekend proved that the club still needs to exercise some of their 2022 demons.

Despite adding a healthy collection of new faces to the side, the Rapids didn’t look much different than last year in their humbling defeat to the Rave Green. Between Jack Price’s absence from the match, multiple befuddling defensive mishaps, and yet another late gut-punch conceded right before half, Sunday’s road loss felt as if Colorado never fully woke up from the 2022 nightmare.

While the Rocky Mountain side started positively in the opening moments of the match when Darren Yapi clipped the crossbar, the Sounders easily outplayed the Rapids at Lumen Field, and ruthlessly punished every mistake in the final third.

Sound familiar?

Colorado’s frail defensive setups on the road were among the team’s most significant weaknesses in 2022, and the club showed little sign of improvement from that standard once the match settled.

Even before U.S. International Cristian Roldán opened the scoring in the 25th minute, the Rapids were still showing signs of the same issues that played the club last season. Australian defender Alex Gersbach—who only featured in two of Colorado’s six preseason scrimmages due to a late arrival from France’s Grenoble Foot 38—frequently ventured out of position from his spot at left back. His movement allowed plenty of space for Jordan Morris to create an early opportunity on the right side, and both of the Sounders’ first half goals would end up resulting from plays on Gersbach’s side.

The newcomer wasn’t the only one that disappointed for Colorado during the nationally-televised opener. The usually-reliable Keegan Rosenberry also shared some blame for multiple Seattle goals, thanks to some uncharacteristically-poor positioning at the back post when he attempted to cover Roldán and Morris. The latter strike resulted from a period of chaos on the box that saw Morris sneak between Lalas Abubakar and Rosenberry unmarked to finish off a loose ball last touched by Ghanaian directly in front of goal.

Abubakar’s struggles persisted through the second half of the match, as the defender mistimed yet another clearance in the 52nd minute, which served up an easy finish for Brazilian forward Héber. Morris’ final dagger in the 83rd (another goal right at the end of a half!) also came at the back post due to some poor marking—this time from homegrown midfielder Cole Bassett.

Without Price, as well as star forward Diego Rubio, the Rapids couldn’t generate much offensively to justify their high line. But the pair’s absence shouldn’t excuse the poor performance. Neither Michael Barrios nor Sam Nicholson could consistently make inroads into the final third, as Sounders fullbacks Alex Roldán and Nouhou Tolo kept both players from receiving the ball in dangerous areas. That left Yapi without any support for large stretches—a frustration that Gyasi Zardes regularly experienced in 2022 when Rubio didn’t suit up.

There were some positive takeaways to the match—Yapi still showed promising flashes of brilliance and midfielder Connor Ronan rarely put a bad foot forward—but those moments were mere consolations during an otherwise dreadful outing. The team’s 2022-esque defensive miscues and offensive apathy meant that Colorado was never really in the match once Seattle grabbed the lead.

For an easy analogue to Sunday’s contest, fans need not look any further than the club’s 2022 opener against Los Angeles FC. Once Carlos Vela scored the first of his three goals, Colorado never had a chance.

At least Rapids manager Robin Fraser was willing to accept responsibility for his audacious high line on Sunday, which contributed to the Sounders’ ability to cut through the Rapids’ defense:

I do think that I have to take some of the blame because against Seattle on the road, perhaps we may have been a bit too aggressive. […] As they started to get behind us, or every time they got behind us, it felt really dangerous. And I thought we just didn’t handle those situations well enough. So I definitely have to look at myself and think that perhaps our setup was a bit too aggressive given where we were in first game of the year.

For a club that said the right things and banged the drum of change ahead of the new year, Sunday’s match was another reminder that Colorado still has work to do to keep up with the Joneses of MLS. Only time will tell if Sunday’s outing was a mere bump in the road, or a harbinger that the club hasn’t fully woken up from their 2022 nightmare.

Starter Ratings

William Yarbrough (GK): 5/10. Yarbrough got hung out to dry on Seattle’s first, third, and fourth goals. He arguably could have positioned himself better to deny Morris’ effort just before half-time, but his four solid saves kept the Sounders from turning the blowout into a record-setting defeat.

Alex Gersbach (LB): 2/10. Gersbach’s poor outing extended beyond his positioning on Seattle’s goals. The Australian left back lost possession 14 times and got beat on the dribble twice by Morris down the left flank. He offered very little in distribution, and didn’t complete a single cross or long ball. It’s all uphill from here, right?

Keegan Rosenberry (RB): 3/10. This was quite possibly Rosenberry’s worst-ever performance in a Rapids shirt, and definitely his most frustrating showing since Colorado’s 6-0 road loss to the Philadelphia Union last season. He held at least partial responsibility for multiple Seattle goals and was a turnover machine at the back, losing possession 11 times. Rosenberry was out-dueled at a rate of two-to-one, and wasn’t consistent when attempting to pass out of the back. Fraser’s decision to replace the fullback with Danny Wilson before the final whistle speaks volumes.

Lalas Abubakar (CB): 4/10. Some of Abubakar’s less-than-stellar moments were just plain bad luck, but misfortune seems to have a consistent habit of following the Ghanaian around the pitch.

Andreas Maxsø (CB): 5/10. Maxsø was the least-culpable among all of Colorado’s defenders during the match, and the Danish defender couldn’t put out every fire on the pitch. Fraser usually pairs Abubakar with a center back capable of playing a significant number of long balls, but Maxsø only completed one of his six attempts during the 90 minutes. He might have had an off night, or Fraser could have adjusted his approach for how he wants his defenders to kick-start attacks. That’s something fans should probably keep an eye on during the opening month of the season.

Connor Ronan (MID): 8/10. Ronan was a welcome respite amidst the disappointment on the pitch during Sunday night’s fixture. The Irish midfielder excelled filling in Jack Price’s shoes, and occasionally dropped into the back line to form a back three when the Rapids attacked. Like Bryan Acosta last season, Ronan used the position to ping long balls (4/6) and crosses (2/9) to switch the play and find players in open space. He completed all three of his attempted dribbles, found his man on 90% of his passes, and created Colorado’s best chances of the game.

Ralph Priso (MID): 5/10. It’s not entirely clear to me what Fraser wants Priso to do in the midfield. Whatever his role, the Toronto FC Academy product wasn’t really successful at doing eight or six-like things. Priso’s passing was average, though he didn’t do much in the way of chance creation. He won five of his eight ground duels, but lost both of his aerial battles.

Cole Bassett (MID): 6/10. Bassett had an up-and-down game. His aggressiveness saw the Rapids win possession in critical areas multiple times, and he created one quarter-chance in the first half. That started to fade as the game went on—he started losing more duels and missing more passes. That culminated with his poor positioning in the 82nd minute that led to Morris’ brace.

Michael Barrios (FWD): 3/10. Fraser made the curious call to start Barrios start over Kévin Cabral, the team’s marquee winter attacking acquisition. It didn’t pay off—Barrios looks to have lost even more of the pace he used to terrorize defenses in 2021. He failed to complete any of his attempted dribbles, missed one big chance, and lost two of his 12 attempted duels. The Colombian is probably a better fit for a super-sub role as the season progresses.

Sam Nicholson (FWD): 4/10. Nicholson and Barrios swapped sides during different parts of the game, but the Scottish winger similarly struggled to bypass Nouhou and Alex Roldán in the attack.

Darren Yapi (FWD): 7/10. With Rubio sidelined to injury, Yapi followed up his Decision Day start against Austin FC with an above-average showing at striker. He created a few chances, including one well-weighted gift that Barrios squandered late in the match. He still has work to do to hone the finer points of his game, but Sunday showed that the hype building around the young homegrown is real. Rubio is set to miss 2-5 weeks according to a club announcement, so Yapi should see plenty of additional action over the next month.

Bench Ratings

Kévin Carbral (FWD): 5/10. Cabral strangely started the match on the bench in lieu of Barrios before coming on in the 71st minute. He showcased his speed while completing five passes on six touches, but didn’t do anything else noteworthy.

Danny Wilson (CB): 4/10. Wilson entered at the same time as Cabral, but missed the mark on all four of his attempted long balls.

Max (MID): NR. Max completed one out of four pass attempts on six touches after entering for Priso with ten minutes to go. He didn’t have much time to get settled into the game.

Braian Galván (FWD): NR. It was nice to see Galván return to action after missing 2022 with an ACL injury, but the dynamic Argentine winger arrived too late to meaningfully impact the match.