Make or Break Year
Updated: Apr 16, 2021
Rapids Season Preview
As many of you are already aware, the Colorado Rapids have steadily made progress over the past few seasons. After our first winning season since 2016 we made the playoffs last season. The real question is, will the team perform consistently throughout this full season? Make no mistake, it is undoubtedly a make or break season for the Burgundy Boys.
Play the kids as they say. One of the obvious strategies for this club in recent years has been to focus on youth. Naturally that would mean developing players through the youth academy. It doesn’t stop there as we brought in players from other MLS academies as well. The average age of this squad has dropped to 24 years old. The cornerstone of this youth movement lies with midfielder Cole Bassett and left back Sam Vines. They are poised for big seasons as they get significant playing time and frequently are called up to the US National Team.
The other major factor outside of youth that bodes well for this team is continuity. Very low turnover in the squad can lead to better chemistry. And this is not to say that players are comfortable and don’t have to fight for their position because they do. After slowly building momentum the past few seasons the team chemistry factor looks high going into this season. The Rapids Way, as GM Padraig Smith framed it, is definitely taking form 3.5 years after that famous op-ed in the Denver Post.
After defeating some of the top squads in the Western Conference last year, this squad shouldn’t be afraid of anyone. There is of course a different dynamic as the majority of games are against in-conference opponents. This also means we will see away teams have to fly into Denver the day of the match. Strength at altitude!!!
The only major signing was Michael Barrios from FC Dallas in the offseason. He brings a direct style to his play, injecting pace down the right wing and veteran experience. In my opinion, this move elevates the entire team not just the winger position.
Signing William Yarbrough in the net on a permanent solidifies his role as starting keeper in front of Clint Irwin. He is more of a vocal leader in the back line which is complementing the team well. The expected #1 MLS Superdraft pick Philip Mayaka was selected 3rd overall at central midfield where he can fill in a variety of roles from the 6, 8 or even 10 role. On draft day Padraig Smith said “we think of him as a Darlington Nagbe”. That should get you excited if you haven’t seen the Clemson University graduate and Kenyan native. Mayaka is starting the season on loan at USL affiliate Colorado Springs Switchbacks. These additions are certainly welcomed and once again we retained nearly every player on the roster from last year.
In case you somehow missed it the homegrown contracts came a flurry this offseason. The youngest player in Rapids history is now Darren Yapi who plays striker and wing. Dantouma “Yaya” Toure was signed from NY Red Bulls academy for $50,000 in GAM who plays in midfield. Oliver Larraz became the 13th Rapids academy player to sign who plays in midfield and outside back. And finally, Michael Edwards was acquired for $75,000 in GAM to DC United for his homegrown rights. Edwards plays centerback and was with Wolfsburg II since 2018. Michael Edwards is on loan with the Switchbacks as well as RB Sebastian Anderson, RB Jeremy Kelly, GK Abe Rodriguez, LW Matt Hundley and CM Philip Mayaka going into next season.
Deeper look at the squad
Although it’s a shame that the United States once again missed out on the Olympics this done mean it’s much more likely we’ll have Sam Vines and company playing for the Rapids more. That being said because we didn’t have much turnover in the squad there aren’t a ton of surprises.
One surprise that is certainly welcomed comes after two years out on injury and t’s an absolute joy to see Kortne Ford back on the field. He has seen playing time in pre-season however it remains to be seen what kind of role he will have. Alongside the Ghanaian rock that is Lalas Abubakar there are certainly some question marks as Danny Wilson, Auston Trusty and Drew Moor also compete at centerback.
Steven Beitashour looks to be the favorite to cover for Sam Vines if he’s called up to USMNT or is otherwise unavailable. On the right side of defense, it looks ironman Keegan Rosenberry does not have a back up and maybe he doesn’t need one.
Midfield strength lies with the trio of Captain Jack Price, Kellyn Acosta and Cole Bassett. We know what to expect here and same goes for the wingers. Our deepest position includes Michael Barrios, Jon Lewis, Nicolas Benezet, Braian Galvan and Andre Shinyashiki (who is also backup striker). DP Younes Namli is very versatile and looks to be coming into the middle of the park rather than right wing this season due to our depth. Collen Werner provides a central defensive midfield spot deeper down the pecking order as does Nicolas Mezquida.
Rubio leads the attack and again 2019 Rookie of the Year Andre Shinyashiki will be the backup role. It could be another "score by committee" approach but if we see a Rapids striker hit 12-15 goals it could be a huge difference maker. Solid squad. Top to bottom. Predicted lineup going into the season:
Technically it's a 4-3-3 on paper but I see us on the field actually playing a 4-2-3-1. Not a huge difference in my opinion but no doubt Cole Bassett plays furthest forward of our midfielders. Regardless we can expect these core players and a very similar type of formation each week.
Personally I want to see Auston Trusty break into a regular starting role. Wilson is good on the ball but overly confident in my opinion which leads to mistakes. Not sure how but a Lewis/Namli/Barrios attack would be fun to see as well. I expect Fraser to rotate the squad pretty heavily again this season but the "ideal" starting eleven will look similar to this.
What else needs to happen?
What we need to see from this team after a full season with Coach Robin Fraser is consistent performances. Although we’ve been capable of outplaying some of the best teams in the league we have also dropped off against weaker sides. The Burgundy Boys need to be harder to play against, show more grit in the middle of the park and close out games when in the lead. Although it's possible Fraser changes up the formation slightly I don't think it'll be anything groundbreaking unless we have injury issues.
Many have predicted a finish in roughly the same position as last season around 5th place which is completely reasonable. LAFC, Seattle and Portland look like powerhouses once again with Minnesota nipping at their heels. We may be the dark horse pick but it's also very reasonable that at least one of these teams suffers some setbacks. I may get dragged for this but I honestly think the Colorado Rapids are good enough to finish 3rd place in the West.
I sincerely hope it's not the end of their time but Cole Bassett and Sam Vines are possibly playing their last seasons in burgundy. The Rapids Way means that we hope some players develop enough to play abroad and chase their dreams. I do hope they take step and continue to elevate their game. It may be bittersweet but it's their time. This is their year. And not just these two young studs but the whole team, the whole staff and the whole state. LET'S GOOOO COLORADO RAPPPIDDDSSSS!!!!
Until next time, stay safe out there soccer fans!