The Colorado Rapids had long targeted 2020 as what they were building towards. With salary cap and roster flexibility opening up, the club promised the playoffs and more.
Sure, they didn't envision this year going quite this way — who could have! — but they are excited about the foundation laid.
Colorado made the playoffs by finishing fifth place in the Western Conference, even overcoming about a month's worth of postponed games due to a COVID-19 outbreak within the club. Along the way to picking up points, they played front-footed soccer with a young squad, which was all by design.
Two young academy products Cole Bassett and Sam Vines were integral to that, as was 2019 MLS Rookie of the Year Andre Shinyashiki. Recent intra-league additions like Lalas Abubakar, Kellyn Acosta and others led the way, alongside club captain Jack Price and Designated Player Younes Namli.
As such, the Rapids retained an overwhelming majority of the 2020 roster heading towards 2021, with at least 26 players coming back next year.
“Overall, we thought it was a good step in our journey to becoming a perennial playoff team and contender," general manager Padraig Smith told media on a virtual press conference.
Colorado sorted new contracts for a number of players as well, including center backs Abubakar and Auston Trusty.
Abubakar (who turns 26 next week) has been a constant in defense for the club since originally arriving on loan in May of 2019. He was acquired permanently ahead of the 2020 season from Columbus Crew SC for $400,000 General Allocation Money (and an international roster spot) while Trusty was acquired from the Philadelphia Union for $600,000 combined GAM and TAM, with performance-based incentives for an additional $150,000.
Trusty didn't find playing time easy to come by, with just five starts in 2020, but the club see big things for the pairing.
“I think you’re talking about two of the elite young center backs in this league," Smith said of Abubakar and Trusty. "They both have elite athleticism, continuing to develop and have ceilings that are even higher than they are right now. The opportunity to tie them down and to have a strong foundation at the back was too good to turn down.”
With a core centered around Namli, Price, Abubakar, Acosta, Bassett and others, Colorado's roster sits at an intriguing spot. Though few open roster spots, they have room for a few key changes with two Designated Player spots currently open behind Namli.
“We don’t look at it (in terms of DPs)," Smith said. "We look at in terms of: What is our overall budget and how do we best utilize MLS mechanisms for building rosters to put the most competitive team on the field? We’re excited about what we’re doing, we’re excited about the group we have and we’re excited about the targets we’re looking to add.”