Still the underdogs, the Colorado Rapids were always going to be up against it in 2011 in trying to defend their remarkable 2010 MLS Cup victory. A spate of injuries and grueling travel brought on by their debut in the CONCACAF Champions League made that task almost impossible.
Conor Casey was lost to a torn Achilles in midseason and Omar Cummings was in and out of the lineup due to injuries and national-team call-ups, leaving the Rapids without the strike duo that carried them to their championship. The tandem combined for 25 regular-season goals in 2010; they had just nine in 2011.
With veteran midfielder Brian Mullan's 10-game suspension early on for his tackle on Steve Zakuani and ironman Drew Moor absent at a crucial time of the season, too many senior players were affected for the Rapids to stand a realistic chance of defending the Cup.
Still, Colorado kept it interesting, finishing fifth in a tight Western Conference and staying alive in CCL play until the final matchday of the group stage.
Best Moment of the Year
The timing of Colorado’s 4-1 thrashing of the New York Red Bulls on July 20 couldn’t have been better, coming just a few days after Casey went down with his season-ending injury. With Sanna Nyassi bursting onto the scene with a hat trick in this game, it seemed – at the time, at least – as if the Rapids wouldn’t have to get overly worried about missing their big man.
Worst Moment of the Year
The firing of former head coach Gary Smith at the end of the season leaves the Rapids in a state of flux with the future uncertain for many players. Just one year after coaching the team to its first MLS Cup title and the first trophy in franchise history, the Englishman was dispatched amid a highly publicized feud between him and technical director Paul Bravo. With several senior players due for contract renewals, the uncertainty caused by Smith’s dismissal leaves many wondering what the team will look like in 2012.
There were other goals during the season that were more spectacular, but Nyassi’s strike at Philadelphia on July 29 provided another example of the growing understanding between the Gambian and Cummings. It was a perfect goal in so many ways – the optimal weighted pass from Cummings, the inch-perfect timing of Nyassi’s run, his first-time finish and the timing of the goal in the game. Nyassi’s strike took it to 2-0 before the Union’s furious late rally almost pinched two points back for the home team.
LA Galaxy defender Todd Dunivant’s header looked certain to be goal-bound on Sept. 9, but Matt Pickens produced a hugely athletic dive down to his right to push the ball around the post. A goal there and it would have been 1-0 to the Galaxy before the break. As it was, Pickens’ brilliance in that first half, especially, kept his team in the game.
The forwards didn't light up the nets as they did the prior season, and Colorado's strength in 2011 was in defense, where Moor proved so invaluable. The versatile back set an MLS record for most consecutive 90-minute games during the season, proving his worth time and again either at the heart of defense or at left fullback. His effect was most notable when he wasn’t able to play in the second leg of the Eastern Conference Semifinals at Sporting Kansas City. The Rapids lamented his absence on the crucial set pieces that allowed SKC to advance convincingly.
Easy come, easy go. With apologies to Caleb Folan and Tyrone Marshall, Nyassi is the pick here. The Gambian hit his stride after Casey went down, which provided him with an opportunity to play in a more aggressive central position in partnership with Cummings. The combination proved a hit, as he and Cummings were the No. 1 strike partnership right until the end of the season. Unfortunately, Nyassi fell victim to a numbers game, as the Montreal Impact pounced on the unprotected speedster in last month’s Expansion Draft.
1. Appoint a new head coach ASAP: With the MLS Combine and SuperDraft rapidly approaching, the club needs a touchline leader immediately. Given some of the official comments coming from the club, that coach will have to buy in to a more collaborative approach in building a squad that can challenge again for the MLS Cup.
2. Lock up the core: A number of senior players’ contracts are up, including Cummings, Moor and Kosuke Kimura. The club needs to get them renewed as quickly as possible to secure a core around which the new coach can build a strong team. Mullan was re-signed to a mult-year deal earlier this month, and that's a good start – now for the rest.
3. Get a jersey sponsor: It’s time to stop talking the talk and make a deal happen. Besides the work to do on the pitch, the Rapids could use investment off it, too. And this is where new president Tim Hinchey – recently promoted from his previous job as marketing director – can put his stamp on his new role. It would also be a big move toward further stability for an organization in desperate need of it this offseason.