Expect the Colorado Rapids to stay busy on the transfer front this summer.
That was the general message from executive vice president and general manager Padraig Smith during a conference call Saturday, held ahead of their 2-2 draw at Real Salt Lake in the Rocky Mountain Cup.
His comments came on the tail end of Colorado trading Canadian international midfielder Mark-Anthony Kaye to Toronto FC for $1.025 million in General Allocation Money, midfielder Ralph Priso and other assets. The return’s valuation, collectively, rivals the MLS-record trade of US men’s national team winger Paul Arriola from D.C. United to FC Dallas this past offseason for up to $2.3 million GAM.
“It's folly, really, to look at these deals in isolation,” Smith began. “This is not the last deal we're going to make in this window. This is the first of what I certainly believe is going to be a very active window for us, and I think really what has to be done is it has to be judged in terms of the total package of what the overall situation looks like, what the roster looks like when we're finished making those moves.”
Positions of need
The move comes as Colorado, Western Conference regular-season winners in 2021, sit 12th in the table as Week 20 arrives (20 points; 5W-8L-5D record). That’s created some urgency for the club to supplement their squad and climb the table, with Smith stressing they’re not performing to their optimal levels amid what he dubbed strong underlying numbers (their -7.69 goals minus expected goals [xG] value is the second-worst in MLS; their 0.53 goals against minus expected goals against [xGA] value is top-10 in MLS).
Both for the immediate and long-term, Smith identified three areas they’re looking to strengthen after already bringing back winger Sam Nicholson before the Secondary Transfer Window (runs July 7 to Aug. 4) got underway.
“I think when I look at the chances we're creating, I still think we can look at our overall attacking area and say, ‘Okay do we need to bring somebody else in that's going to give us another cutting edge in the attacking third?’ That is something that we're looking at,” Smith said.
“I think long-term we're certainly going to look to bring in another center back to challenge, and we are also now are looking at bringing in an 8 to reinforce the midfield. So from my perspective, it's really about looking at the overall group and what we've got for this year – but also what we're planning for in next year as well.”
As for key roster spots, Colorado’s three U22 Initiative spots are filled by left back Lucas Esteves (loan extended), center back Gustavo Vallecilla (early-season trade from Cincinnati) and midfielder Max Alves (offseason signing from Brazil). That leaves them with a Young Designated Player spot to potentially fill, with midfielder Jack Price (club captain) and striker Gyasi Zardes (US international acquired in trade from Columbus) taking DP spots.
“We can buy players down, we've got a lot of flexibility,” Smith said about their DP situation. “We've built up a war chest over the past little while in terms of GAM as well.”
Building vs. stars
But Smith also signaled to not expect a bonafide star to arrive; it’s perhaps not the Rapids’ modus operandi given past transfer dealings and their roster-building approach.
“We look to build here,” Smith stated. “We're not going out and necessarily signing a Carlos Vela or a [Raul] Ruidiaz or a [Lucas] Zelarayan or an [Emanuel] Reynoso, going into the top players. We're looking to develop them. We're looking to build them ourselves and to build from within so that we've got a core group of players that can compete.
“I think what is absolutely critical is that your senior players, the core of your team, are playing at a high level so that you can integrate those young players in a thoughtful way. You've got to have that balance that's there. So we're absolutely looking at who the next crop are, bringing players through and improving.”
That approach surfaces with defender Auston Trusty officially heading overseas to join English Premier League side Arsenal; he’s expected to head out on loan after being transferred to another Kroenke Sports & Entertainment-owned club.
Trusty is the latest example of Colorado sending abroad a young, promising American player after US internationals and homegrowns Sam Vines (transfer to Belgium’s Royal Antwerp) and Cole Bassett (loan to Holland’s Feyenoord) both departed within the last year. They’ve also seen US international midfielder Kellyn Acosta (to LAFC for up to $1.5 million GAM), forward Andre Shinyashiki (to Charlotte FC for up to $400k GAM) and now Kaye (to Toronto for assets worth around $2 million) depart via trades within six months of each other.
Summed together, that’s a significant talent exodus from their 2021 team that memorably hosted MLS’s first-ever Audi MLS Cup Playoffs game on Thanksgiving Day. But Smith, apt to search for what some coin distressed assets from around MLS, feels they’re poised to keep progressing as the pieces develop under head coach Robin Fraser.
“You have team life cycles, I would say,” Smith said. “We've gone through the last three years – '19, '20, '21, it's been an incredibly strong period for the club. I think we're right up there with the top number of clubs in terms of our performance over that three years. Obviously '19 didn't start well but from May on in '19 through to the end of last year, it's been an incredibly strong period for the club, probably the best in the club's history.”
Smith’s also betting on some internal pieces developing, ranging from homegrown attackers Darren Yapi and Dantouma Toure to defender Aboubacar Keita and midfielder Braian Galvan as the latter two return from season-ending injuries. Veteran midfielder Bryan Acosta continues to carve out a key role, too, after the Honduran international was picked in the Re-Entry Draft last winter.
But for now, focus shifts to summertime transfer additions in pursuit of a second-half surge up the table.
“I know we can get out of this and I know we can put ourselves in a position to challenge for the playoffs – I fully expect us to be competitive,” Smith said. “That will be seen in what we do in this window. We are not giving up on this season by any stretch of the imagination. We fully believe that we can get back into this playoff hunt and I think by extension we fully believe that we can be competitive and thrive in the playoffs as well. Because you get on a run, you build that momentum, you build confidence and that can be a powerful thing.
“Look, it's not going to be easy. Nobody's saying that,” Smith continued. “But I genuinely do feel like we've got the talent and we're certainly not going to stop trying to make this group an even stronger group. But we've got to execute now, we've got to go out there and our get our group on the field performing. We've got to take advantage of some of the play that we haven't been able to take advantage of.”