Powers? Jose Mari? Sturgis? Colorado Rapids mull replacements for midfield "bulldog" Hendry Thomas
COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – In an offseason of upheaval for the Colorado Rapids, it was only fitting that Hendry Thomas followed former Rapids coach Oscar Pareja to FC Dallas.
On Wednesday, the Rapids announced that they have dealt the feisty defensive midfielder to FC Dallas in exchange for allocation money, ending the 28-year-old Honduran’s 18-month stay in Colorado after his August 2012 acquisition from English side Wigan FC.
So how do the Rapids fill the void, particularly defensively, of a 27-game starter from 2013? Interim head coach Pablo Mastroeni shared some ideas with MLSsoccer.com over the weekend.
“I think defense is all about commitment. I don’t think it’s one guy,” Mastroeni told MLSsoccer.com of Thomas’ departure. “A lot of people from the outside can perceive it to be one guy, but that’s just like saying when someone scores 20 goals in a season it’s all him. It’s all a trickle-down effect.”
The big question for the Rapids will be filling Thomas’ void on the defensive side of the ball. Employed as essentially a fifth defender, the Honduran played just in front of the back four, breaking up opposing attacks with his tough tackling and effectively serving in a "bulldog"-type role.
In 2012, the year the Rapids acquired Thomas from Wigan Athletic, they allowed 50 goals. A year later, that number decreased by 12 down to 38, and while other defensive improvements certainly played a part in the defensive improvement, Thomas’ play contributed as well.
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However, he was alarmingly foul-prone, picking up a team-high seven yellow cards in 2013, and the Rapids declined his option in December after he asked for a pay raise (the club tried to bring him back under different terms).
With Thomas gone, the "bulldog" job will likely fall on likely new acquisition José Mari, who joined Colorado for preseason training this week and is currently finalizing a contract, according to the team.
The 26-year-old Spanish defensive midfielder, who left La Liga’s Real Zaragoza earlier this month, would become the club’s biggest acquisition this offseason and would be expected to help fill Thomas’ void.
Other options to fill Thomas’ void include 2013 MLS Rookie of the Year Dillon Powers, who played in a more advanced central midfield role last year but could shift further back if needed, or Nathan Sturgis, who played in more of a box-to-box role last year.
“Hendry was a great player for us and he’s somebody that you miss no matter who you replace him with,” Rapids defender Drew Moor told MLSsoccer.com on Sunday. “You don’t replace a guy like Hendry, because he’s a fantastic player. But you do have some great replacements to put in his position.
“Nobody quite plays like [Thomas], but like I said, we do have some fantastic players to pick from and you keep moving forward with who you have.”
Chris Bianchi covers the Colorado Rapids for MLSsoccer.com.