2014 Colorado Rapids Preview: Can the kids be all right once again? | Armchair Analyst
Who's the boss? I never watched that show – literally never saw one episode – but even I know that Angela was the boss (thanks Family Guy!). Do we know the answer in Colorado? I know the players are saying all the right things about Pablo Mastroeni's interim tag, but we're five days from kick and it's still an interim tag. That can't play well in the locker room – especially since it's partially full of guys who came to Commerce City to play for somebody else.
Blend it right: Colorado's success last year came from the ability to translate deep possession into chances. Real quick. This came down to speed on the flanks (tons of it), and a central midfield trio with perfectly complementary skillsets. Hendry Thomas won the ball, Dillon Powers sprayed it around, and Nathan Sturgis did smart, Nathan Sturgis-y things. At the moment, only Powers is back in the midfield mix, and may be playing more advanced in 2014.
Once more, with feeling: For a team with so much youth, they are pretty old at one crucial spot: Center forward. Edson Buddle, who turns 33 in May and just hasn't been the same since the Ingolstadt move a couple years back, is the only legit target forward on the roster. And in the way the 4-2-3-1 has played this preseason, they need the ability to hold the ball up top. If he gets hurt – or just doesn't perform – they could be in trouble and have to redefine themselves on the fly.
Star Attraction: Dillon Powers
The GIF at right shows the best traits of three different Rapids youngsters – Chris Klute getting up the sideline at pace and whipping in a perfect cross on the fly with his off foot, and Deshorn Brown busting his rear to get to the near post because he can smell the scoring chance being the two that sort of steal the show.
But the Rapids lived and died with that instant, pillowy through ball from Powers. He's so deep, and part of the play so briefly that he doesn't even really show up in the frame. Yet without him, neither Klute nor Brown get to show their wares. He's the orchestrator who allows the rest of the attack to go.
If you doubt that, rewatch the Knockout Round loss to Seattle which Powers missed with a concussion. The Rapids were forced to play compact, and it was awful.
Anyway, Powers is one of the few players in the league with 270-degree vision, which when combined with his passing touch means he can open up the field at odd angles. He makes every field he plays on bigger, and that is precisely how Colorado became one of the league's toughest outs.
Probable Formation: 4-2-3-1
Major Acquisition: José Mari*
They haven't signed him yet, but they better. If they don't, they're dead in the water.
Simply put: You can't win in MLS without a ball-winner in the central midfield. Colorado lost theirs when Thomas moved on to FC Dallas, and throughout most of preseason, José Mari has been the man given those minutes.
What do we know about him? He's 26, he's 5-foot-11, and he's played almost 200 games in Spain at every level from La Liga to the fourth tier. In preseason, he's shown a pretty good passing touch and good understanding of lanes, but hasn't looked anything close to the physical presence Thomas was at d-mid. That's a worry, because for a team that throws flank numbers forward so readily, there has to be a "none shall pass" attitude in the center of the pitch.
I know you've got a lot of stuff on your minds, Rapids fans. But trust me: This is your biggest concern right now.
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What He Said
“I’m not counting on one guy to save us from a defensive standpoint, and I’m not counting on any one guy to be the hero on the attacking end.”
Fantasy Pick: Vicente Sánchez ($7.5m/ selected by 0.7 percent of teams) – Only played 652 minutes last season, but should be a key focal point in the Rapids attack this year. He takes corner kicks and should be in the mix on set pieces as well. With a full offseason andpreseason under his belt, Uruguayan veteran could be in for a breakout season. Colorado have a tough schedule to start the season, but it looks pretty favorable from Round 5 on.
Players to watch: Edson Buddle, Drew Moor, Nick LaBrocca
Colorado made the playoffs thanks to the kids last year. Powers and Brown were the best rookies in the league; Klute played his way into the USMNT picture, as did centerback Shane O'Neill, who will eventually regain a starting spot next to Drew Moor. Clint Irwin, in his first year in the top flight, was one of the five best 'keepers in the league. Maybe three best.
Expecting all these guys to improve in 2014, given all the upheaval and the fact that the guy who threw them into the gameday XI – Oscar Pareja – is gone, seems like too much. We saw a very, very good rookie class in 2012 get scouted and largely fall off the map in 2013. MLS coaches make good adjustments, and kids have a tough time keeping up.
So then it becomes a case of "can the vets hold it together around them?" Again it seems like a tough ask, save for the always-reliable Moor. Nathan Sturgis has been a middling fullback in MLS when used there, and Vicente Sánchez looks to be, like Buddle, approaching his sell-by date.
That leaves a lot of hauling for Gabriel Torres, the Panamanian DP who produced a few moments of electric brilliance and should be good for a few more. If he can carry the team for a few weeks here and there, the Rapids will survive to, once again, fight for that fifth spot. But it's hard to see it getting much rosier than that.