2022 Recap: 11W-13L-10D. 43 points. 10th Place in the Western Conference.
Top Goalscorer: Diego Rubio 16. Most Assists: Michael Barrios 6
(Image: Colorado Rapids)
Comparing season to season is always a fair way to gauge success. On some level. It's not really open for debate when comparing 2021 to 2022 for Colorado. There were a litany of smaller issues including subpar player transactions in the offseason, numerous player injuries, individual regression, a major drop off in set piece production and a porous team defense. They won the Western Conference two years ago and it's been a downhill slide since then.
However, things are looking up in 2023. Yes, perhaps it's easy to have hope with the dawn of a new season upon us. Some fans believe the old phrase, "It's the hope that kills you". I understand if certain fan bases (like ours!) become hardcore pessimists. I do. But there's good reason to have hope right now. I like how Ted Lasso put it, "So I’ve been hearing this phrase y’all got over here that I ain’t too crazy about. ‘It’s the hope that kills you.’ Y’all know that? I disagree, you know? I think it’s the lack of hope that comes and gets you. See, I believe in hope. I believe in belief”. This Rapids organization loves playing the underdog role and I think they're primed to do it again this season.
The core group that won the Western Conference remains intact. The same coaching staff as well. However, the big change is the upgrades in personnel. Not only did the Rapids kick their trend of acquiring players that are currently in MLS, but they spent a little more than usual. Still frugal purchases but exciting ones. The spine of the team is potentially upgraded with a centerback of Maxso's quality. Arguably the biggest hole going into the season was left back. Gersbach fills that need immediately. Central midfield needed a starter caliber infusion which was met with the young Irishman Connor Ronan. Attacking quality was also added with an injection of pace from Kevin Cabral. Not finalized yet but a new starter in net appears to be on the way soon. Add Calvin Harris for depth in attack. And finally, the return of the prodigal son, Littleton native Cole Bassett.
This is a lot of new faces. It could take time for the new players to adjust. We also know that this Rapids front office has a history of considering team chemistry and cohesion when acquiring new players. Connor Ronan played with Jack Price in his time at Wolverhampton. Bassett obviously is familiar with the club and the majority of the players on this team. This mix of players looks ideal on paper to me and if they can mesh quickly, we could be in for a real treat this season. When things clicked two years ago, the Burgundy Boys had a natural blend of veteran players and young guns. Things are falling in to place with a very similar feeling. One notable difference to previous success is at the striker position. Despite Diego Rubio's resounding success last season, he seems to play best with a target striker alongside him. With Zardes leaving, the only player that fits that role is 18-year-old Darren Yapi. Yapi could see some valuable minutes off the bench, but I don't expect to see him start regularly. The teenager is highly sought after, and many expect him to break out soon.
The first few games of the season will be telling in terms of what tendencies to expect from Head Coach Robin Fraser and his squad. Will Rubio be the target striker after all? Will they keep the five at the back formation or change it up? Can they pick up the pieces from two years ago and take a significant step forward?
Predicted Starting XI under HC Robin Fraser
Players IN: Players OUT:
F-Kevin Cabral (Transfer from LA Galaxy) F- Gyasi Zardes
M- Connor Ronan (Transfer from Wolverhampton) M- Collen Warne
D- Alex Gersbach (Transfer from Grenoble Foot 38) D- Lucas Esteves
D- Andreas Maxso (Transfer from Brondy IF) M- Philip Mayaka
M- Cole Bassett (recalled from loan) M- Felipe Gutierrez
F- Calvin Harris (Acquired from FC Cincinatti) GK- Clint Irwin
Adding several key starters to this core group, provides a clear overall upgrade. Unlike the moves the club made after getting knocked out of the 2021 MLS Cup. Beyond an ideal starting eleven, the Rapids have great depth at most positions. Mikey Barrios, Jon Lewis, Calvin Harris, Sam Nicholson and Briain Galvan are all options on the wing. Young guys like Darren Yapi, Max, Ralph Priso, Dantouma Toure, Anthony Markanich and Oliver Larraz could all see more action this year. Aboubacar Keita and Gustavo Vallecilla will likely be battling for a centerback slot for the future. Or maybe even for this season. Time will tell if Danny Wilson is being replaced by Maxso (I think he is) since Wilson doesn't play left centerback in a back three, nor does he play centerback in a back four. Regardless, all of this means that Fraser has options. And man does a coach love that. Different looks against different opponents to suit the strengths of this team.
Tactically I think we'll see more of the same. Fraser will not only rotate the squad but likely trot out different formations throughout the season. Typically, it's a 5-3-2 look in general but can easily transition into a 433 in game. One specific tactic that remains constant is to overload the flanks, especially the left side. The team will possess the ball out of the back with short passing, and then look for a switch or over the top ball to open up play. Under Fraser, the Rapids will also try to use a variation in attacking through fast breaks, slow possession and as always, they'll be a threat on set pieces.
What is success for this season?
Making the playoffs isn't enough. Especially if the new format that's been reported lately comes to fruition. The Colorado Rapids need to be ambitious and aim for a deep MLS Cup run. Home playoff games. Actually winning an MLS Cup match is a good starting point. But they have to aim higher.
In order to get there, the Rapids first have to shore up their defensive woes. Maxso is reportedly a leader, good with the ball at his feet and an aerial threat. We'll need everything he's got to improve the team defense and organization. It's not just the backline and keeper where improved performances are needed. Colorado also needs to clean up their central midfield play. Last season Jack Price missed the majority of the season. His ability to provide cover in front of the backline is imperative. If Price is, God forbid, injured again, they need to have a good plan in place. That could be Bryan Acosta as the backup player but no matter who's in, they have to play patient and protect the back line. Something they weren't able to do previously.
The second most important factor for improving this season is around creativity. The Rapids created a lot of chances but often times looked like they couldn't finish. Between Rubio and Zardes, 25 goals were scored, however. Wingers running to the corner and swinging in a cross is fine at times but can't be the only outlet once forward. Creating better quality chances and finishing them will lead to better outcomes. Often times this could be as simple as slowing down the attack if the runner or space isn't there. Keep possession and keep prodding.
The Burgundy Boys will open the season on the road against the Seattle Sounders on Feb 26 at 6:30pm MT while the home opener at DSG Park will be against rivals Sporting KC on March 4 at 7:30pm MT. After that, the Rapids see action against San Jose Quakes and Minnesota United. Far from easy games, but it's going to be vital to start strong in these opening games of the season. The Western Conference is still strong but typically strong teams like the Sounders and LAFC haven't strengthened their squads significantly. This could very well open up the opportunity for an underdog team to slide in under the radar this season.
In case you haven't heard, the new media deal means that all games are available through the Apple TV - MLS Season Pass. Select games will also be on the free version of Apple TV and FS1. However, you can avoid the tragedy that was blackouts of the past, with the MLS Season Pass which includes every single game, a whip-round style show and additional content. It's literally not possible for Kroenke to black out your games. Rejoice! For the league at large, and Colorado in particular, it'll be interesting to see how effective the new programming is. There's plenty of options of casual and hardcore fans alike. The early signs of this Apple TV deal look very promising. If you haven't done it yet, get hyped for the new season by checking out all the new Rapids content on Apple TV right now. The club profile is fantastic and there's plenty more fun stuff to dive into.
Enjoy the 2023 MLS Season! Follow me on Twitter @nickholmberg11 for Rapids coverage all season long.