A huge sigh of relief after a massive week. The Rapids managed a dramatic 5-4 comeback victory at New York Red Bulls and a 4-3 home win against Minnesota over the weekend. The timing couldn't have been better as the club pushes forward chasing a spot in the MLS Cup Playoffs. Meanwhile, much has been made of the recent transfer business of the Colorado Rapids, of the lack thereof. There are legitimate criticisms which I'll dive into here and share my opinion on the matter.
What a week!
Recent form has been fantastic. At least for the offense. And especially the attacking duo of Diego Rubio and Gyasi Zardes. After scoring a hat trick against Minnesota, Gyasi was named MLS Player of the Week. He now has 7 goals and 2 assists since moving from the Columbus Crew.
Meanwhile, Rubio has upped his totals on the season to 11 goals and 6 assists. Easily one of the best individual attacking performances we have seen in a Burgundy shirt. Those totals equal his best output in MLS back in 2019 where he played alongside target striker Kei Kamara. We are approaching that territory so it's fair to bring it up; Conor Casey holds the Rapids record for most goals in a season at 16. With 11 games remaining in the MLS season, anything is possible!
The Chilean bagged one goal against Minnesota and earlier in the week scored once and assisted two goals against NYRB. This was solid enough to earn Rubio a spot on the MLS Team of the Week. But wait, there's more! Head Coach Robin Fraser was also named to the MLS Team of the Week. A very heavy, and deserved, focus on the Colorado Rapids for week 24 in MLS.
(Image: Colorado Rapids)
On the flip side, these last two games did not look good for the defense. Can't put any blame on Yarbrough though, he came up with some fantastic saves and especially when it mattered most in protecting those leads. Lalas Abubakar had a rough outing against New York and was ultimately pulled at half time. The Ghanaian is a polarizing player as he's either looking like one of the very best lockdown defenders in the league, or completely out of step and missing in action. His centerback partner, Danny Wilson, did not have strong performances in these last two games either as he was frequently caught out of position or made poor choices. Overall, the team defense was lacking. Yes there was some individual mistakes but the team as a whole was allowing too much space, didn't know when to step up and pressure an opponent or when to cover space. For the all the positives in turning things around recently, Coach Fraser will be working hard to tighten up the defense performances.
The defensive issues notwithstanding, this team showed immense character to dig out of this hole. Neither of the last two games were easy. It took a lot to mentally and physically overcome adversity. And that is exactly what a good team does, a successful team.
Colorado now sits in 10th place, three points below the playoff line. They have two games in hand over Portland and Nashville who are just above the line. There are actually nine teams within six points of each other. The Western Conference breakdown is really just LAFC and Austin at the top, miles ahead of everyone else. And then it's a crapshoot from there. Houston, San Jose and KC round out the bottom of the conference currently.
This doesn't mean it'll be easy because it won't. However, if the Rapids can keep grinding out wins they stand a decent chance of making the MLS Cup Playoffs. The next few games include Vancouver away, Houston at home, Philly away, Nashville away and DC away.
I'll continue to beat the same drum here. Consistency. It's great that we beat NYRB, LAFC and Seattle this season. But you have to maintain those performances against similar or even worse talent. In order to be successful, this team needs to pick up points against the strongest and the weakest opponents they face heading into the playoffs. This is the time to keep your foot on the pedal and continue heating up.
Recapping the Transfer Window
It's been a very sore topic lately amongst fans. The transfer window. If you simply take what Padraig Smith said back in July it's understandable to see why fans are upset.
“It's folly, really, to look at these deals in isolation. This is not the last deal we're going to make in this window. This is the first of what I certainly believe is going to be a very active window for us, and I think really what has to be done is it has to be judged in terms of the total package of what the overall situation looks like, what the roster looks like when we're finished making those moves.”- Padraig Smith on July 11th, 2022.
Since that comment, the Colorado Rapids did sign Chilean attacking midfielder Felipe Gutierrez. Gutierrez is a former DP #10 playmaker for Sporting KC. Despite being an MVP caliber player back then, he endured a season ending injury in 2019 and hasn't looked the same since moving back to Chile. Although Nico Mezquida wasn't really playing anymore (this season), the move could be seen as a replacement for his bench role. It's entirely possible that the staff is looking to insert Gutierrez into the starting lineup. Only time will tell. The 31-year old signed a 3 month loan deal on August 3rd.
However, the positions that Smith singled out were centerback, a #8 and an attacker. Gutierrez was the only signing since that comment. Yes, the club traded Mark-Anthony Kaye for Ralph Priso (plus additional assets totally over $1 million) but that was before the comments were made. Same for Sam Nicholson, that was prior to the public comments by Smith. It's been reported elsewhere that efforts were made to sign other players, but those deals weren't finalized. They even looked at alternative options. In my opinion, it's better not to make a signing just to appease fans or for the sake of doing it. Rather, it's more important to find the right fit. I don't have details on the in's and out's of these pursued deals but if players didn't want to join Colorado- then that's a different issue altogether.
At the end of the day, the transfer business does not meet the expectations set out by Smith. However, this doesn't mean the team is screwed and the season is a bust. They aren't giving up. Jack Price has recently returned to the lineup where Bryan Acosta improved over time in filling his role. Priso is not only a great midfield option for the future but adds value immediately. Yes it's not the same as Kaye today but Priso fits our system better. A more defensive minded player alongside Price is ideal. Nicholson adds competition at the wing where Lewis and Barrios have picked up there performances as of late. Defensively, there are some issues at hand but I think the return of Price to midfield helps tremendously. Not only will he work hard to cover ground and go in hard on tackles, but he's a leader. He'll help organize the shape of the team. This is invaluable. The new blood in Gutierrez could be exactly what we need. The competition he adds for Max Alves could be exactly what Max needs to push his game forward. Braian Galvan has returned to training on a light basis where the club says he's intended to move into an attacking midfield option. He may be able to contribute at the end of the season as the club pushes for the playoffs.
When I look at each position, I do feel the current team has enough talent to push forward and make a playoff run. It's not at the same level of talent on the roster as last season but that was also the best finish the club ever had. They also got a little lucky and the xG numbers show they've been a little unlucky this year. That's not an excuse, just a contributing factor in my eyes. There was also no getting around the transfer of young stars like Sammy Vines and Cole Bassett. These things happen and you simply have to move forward with what you got.
Long term, the club is likely looking at the same positions Smith pointed out. A centerback in the long term could be in the team already with Aboubacar Keita (injured for most of the season). Vallecilla has had some time to get into the fold but hasn't been consistently performing yet. It's possible one of these players departs in the next window with a view towards a different, long term centerback option. With Zardes and Rubio firing on all cylinders right now, a striker doesn't look likely. If the club move on from one of their wingers, they could upgrade there. Colorado doesn't play with a true #10 playmaker so I wouldn't expect a move in that position either (especially with Galvan returning). A virtuoso in the #8 position really sticks out as a high value target. In my humble opinion, this would likely make the biggest difference for this team. A young DP spot is still available going into next season as well. It's also work considering that free agents are eligible to sign until the roster freeze on September 2nd.
Any way you slice it, this squad has depth in every position. They are absolutely capable. They may not have the same level of talent as last year and haven't performed consistently enough this year. The club may not have been able to sign their preferred players during the last transfer window. But none of that is a good enough reason to give up hope. We are seeing the key players step up and perform at the right time. This Colorado Rapids team will keep working hard under Coach Fraser and pose a serious threat to any team in MLS right now.