Rapids move on the offensive

This year, the Colorado Rapids go on the offensive. New coach Fernando Clavijo revamped the team with the purpose of reinforcing the attacking sector of the Rapids, the lowest scoring team in MLS in 2004.

The Rapids brought in forward Jeff Cunningham from Columbus, to join Jean Philippe Peguero and increase the
offensive output of a team that scored only 29 goals
in 30 matches. In 2004, the team was too
tentative in going forward, netting barely a goal a
game, and that was especially evident in the playoff
series against the Los Angeles Galaxy.

"Clavijo treats you like a professional," says veteran
Pablo Mastroeni. "Before, we had too much structure;
We had creativity. Now it's more fluid [on the
field]."

"Fernando has been a player at the highest levels, and
so he has instant credibility and respect," notes
veteran midfielder Chris Henderson, who played on the
U.S. national team with his current coach and whose
main job will be to provide crosses for Peguero and
Cunningham.

Many players feel the team was too schematic under
former coach Tim Hankinson.

"We were very predictable," explains Henderson.
"Clavijo lets you make the decisions."

However, Clavijo himself has some decisions to make.
He pared his roster down to 18 on March 1, and then
decided which of the camp invitees under 24 years of
age, like Haitian international defender Stephane
Guillame, could fit in the developmental squad.

Forward and Miami native Luchi Gonzalez came back to
MLS from Sporting Cristal of Peru and Hunter Freeman
is a new addition to the defense. Moreover, veterans
with something to prove, like Jamaican international
Wolde Harris, force the coach to consider his options
carefully.

"I need to strengthen several positions, especially in
attack, and we need as much time to work as possible,"
said Clavijo, whose last coaching stint was with the
Haitian national team. "We came back from a preseason
in Ecuador, and I asked [U.S. national team coach] Bruce Arena not to take my players for a month just to train with them."

If the attack was ineffective last year, Colorado is
rock-solid on defense. National team goalkeeper Joe Cannon
anchors the back. A young Nat Borchers provides
size in the middle of the defense and he is flanked by teammate Ritchie Kotschau.

Mastroeni and Kyle Beckerman are mainstays at
defensive midfield, while Mark Chung and Henderson
will be among the players fighting for two of four starting midfield spots.

"It's going to be better than last year," said
Peguero. To partner with Cunningham, a Jamaican-born
U.S. international who arrived from the Crew.

The sooner the two forwards can develop a good
understanding, the better. "I'm looking to develop
that relationship with Peguero. I want to play some
quick exchanges. I don't think any player in the league
can keep up with me one-on-one," said Cunningham.

"We need [field] chemistry to make the jump," said
Henderson. "We always make the playoffs then get
knocked out in the semis.

"The fans want an attacking and exciting game. But who doesn't? People were saying, 'Why aren't Chung and Henderson scoring 11 goals [a year]?' Well, before I was getting passes from [Carlos] Valderrama [at the Miami Fusion]."

To shore up depth at the wide midfield positions,
Clavijo brought in 26-year-old Martin Morales, who was
free after playing for Racing of Argentina (1998-99)
and Racing of Montevideo.

"American soccer is very fast and phyisical. Players don't dribble the ball, and there's no let up," Morales said.

Mastroeni, the U.S. national team veteran who is expecting the birth of his first child at the end of the month, said that he is not necessarily focused on wins.

"A successful season would be to have fun," explained
Mastroeni.

Keyvan Antonio Heydari is an international journalist and television commentator located in Miami. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.


To report a comment, mouseover or touch the comment and then click/touch the flag icon (Flag).