Despite recent struggles, Colorado Rapids retain high expectations for Dillon Powers

COMMERCE CITY, Colo. - When Dillon Powers burst into the scene in 2013 with the Colorado Rapids on his way to being named MLS Rookie of the Year, many saw the dynamic midfielder as a building block for a young team on the rise. But two years later, with the Rapids struggling to find their footing in a tough Western Conference and Powers, of late, struggling for playing time, many have questions about him.

But the club's technical director, Paul Bravo, gave Powers a vote of confidence in a fan forum conference call this week. The 24-year-old, Bravo said, is the team's player "to build around."

Powers said he's ready to take on that responsibility. “ I think I’m up for that. If it’s something we want to do it’s something I’ll have to commit to and I’m all in," he said. "It’s nice to be valued.”

Rapids head coach Pablo Mastroeni knows how that pressure feels -- for a great portion of his playing career, he served as the face of the franchise. But he believes Powers has all of the tools to grow into it.

“I think he does a lot of things well,” Mastroeni said. “Like every young player he needs to improve incrementally in every aspect of his game. The difference between good players and great players are the minor details: game intelligence, technique and tactical awareness. Those things you grow with experience.”

Powers says he knows he needs to score more goals, be more active in the box, and find the ball in better spots, higher up the field. "It's about being a connector wihtin the game," he said, "but I think that's one of my bigger strengths."

Goals have been hard to come by in 2015 for the third-year player, who only has one tally despite leading Colorado in shots (34) and shots on goal (13). He’s had his fair share of close calls, including a missed header that could’ve steered Colorado’s fate in a different direction during last weekend’s 1-0 loss to San Jose.

“He’s got a lot of natural talent and he’s done really well,” Mastroeni said of Powers. “Now, it’s about getting to that next level and maintaining a level of consistency both in training and on game day.”

Powers leads Colorado with five assists on the season, but hasn’t notched a helper since late May. It’s that kind of inconsistency which has led to a reduced role, with just two starts in the Rapids’ past seven contests.

“Yeah, it’s been frustrating,” Powers said of his current fight for playing time. “You always want to be playing as much as possible and contribute. I’ve just done everything I can in practice to make it impossible to keep me out of the game.”

Mastroeni’s preference for three defensive-minded players in the Rapids’ three-person midfield has also limited the opportunities for Powers.

“For me, it was about the change of system and how we would go about it. Going with three out-and-out strikers up front and more defensive capabilities with the three in the midfield,” Mastroeni said of the Rapids’ tactical changes over the past six games. “Powers' strong suit is to go forward from the midfield. I don’t want to put players in positions where they’re not comfortable.”

Despite this, the change in tactics have Powers’ backing.

“I don’t think the 4-3-3 has been too much different,” he said. “In the Open Cup game [against Houston] we created a lot of chances so I’m a fan of it.”

In the midst of what has become a critical juncture in Colorado’s season, Powers isn’t focused on tactics, playing time or front office praise. Instead, he’ll be focused on a more present goal when the Rapids travel to face the Chicago Fire this weekend: a win.

“I think at this point, that’s all that we should come away with," he said. "I think some of the games have been deflating. Every time after a loss you start to question things and there’s a little bit of doubt. But we have a good opportunity to compete again and beat this Chicago side.”