It's been an active winter for last year's top Western Conference team.
The Colorado Rapids have been involved in several big moves. They traded US men's national team midfielder Kellyn Acosta to LAFC and loaned academy product-turned-USMNT debutant Cole Bassett to Feyenoord. Players inbound to Colorado include Brazilian midfielder Max Alves (U22 Initiative), former FC Dallas Designated Player Bryan Acosta and US youth international defender Aboubacar Keita. And the Rapids re-upped a handful of their core to contract extensions as well.
About a month out from their Concacaf Champions League Round of 16 series against Guatemalan club Comunicaciones, Rapids EVP and general manager Padraig Smith insists there's more to come.
“We’re not done yet, there’s no doubt about that," Smith told media on a virtual press conference this week.
It's all geared toward avoiding stagnation, of continuing their incremental improvement. Atop the agenda is more attacking help, perhaps to the tune of a Designated Player if the right deal arrives.
Colorado are proud of their collective ethos – they didn't have a single double-digit scorer last season, with six players scoring four or more goals – but each of the last two years they've bowed out with a shutout playoff loss. In 2020 it was 3-0 to Minnesota United FC in Round One, last year it was 1-0 to the Portland Timbers at home in the Conference Semifinals in MLS' first Thanksgiving Day game.
“I don’t like looking at us going out in our first playoff game two years running without a goal," Smith said. "We’re looking to add in the attacking area.”
Smith reiterated his confidence in his current attackers but wants to increase options and competition. Diego Rubio and Andre Shinyashiki are the senior options through the center, though both have spent time on the wings before, where Michael Barrios, Jonathan Lewis and Braian Galvan are returning from last year.
The club could theoretically sign multiple DPs this offseason, as lone 2021 DP Younes Namli saw his purchase option declined as his loan from Russia's FC Krasnodar ended. Injuries and the COVID-19 pandemic limited the Dane's impact. And while his cost wasn't going to set league-record fees, it also wasn't a negligible figure.
“The short answer is yes: We’re already looking at a number of players who would be a DP-level No. 9 or TAM-level No. 9," Smith said. "I just look at these mechanisms as ways to make our team stronger. Last year we finished top of the Western Conference but we can’t be complacent. We need to move forward."
The Rapids also have a pair of talented US youth international attackers looking to earn minutes in the first team: Winger Yaya Toure (not to be confused with the former Manchester City and Barcelona center back) and center forward Darren Yapi, both 17 years old. Toure spent time this winter training with Arsenal and Rangers, while Yapi spent time training with Arsenal and Club Brugge.
“Darren Yapi is one of the most exciting 17-year-olds we have in the entire country," Smith said.
Midfield shakeup: Acosta out, Acosta in
To look back on the work already completed, the Rapids have made some significant moves. Chief among them is the blockbuster trade that sent Acosta to LAFC for $1.1 million in GAM with a further $400,000 in GAM incentives. The deal is among the most expensive intra-league transactions in MLS history.
Acosta was acquired in a trade from Dallas during the 2018 season as the first key move to bring Smith's vision for the club into reality as a team serious about acquiring and developing young talent.
“First and foremost, we have to think about what Kellyn meant to us," Smith said. "He was a huge part of our turnaround. Kellyn was the first real trade we made to put a stake in the ground to say this is the Rapids Way. He was a really important trade for us and he’ll always mean a lot to me personally because of what he meant in those first years. The time he spent here, he’s been a key part of our turnaround."
Since Acosta, the Rapids have acquired a large portion of their core via intra-league trades: Mark-Anthony Kaye, Auston Trusty, Keegan Rosenberry, Lalas Abubakar, Lewis, Rubio, Barrios and Keita all fit that bill. Many were viewed as distressed assets, yet they've since blossomed at Dick's Sporting Goods Park.
Colorado and Acosta engaged in contract negotiations after the 2021 season, but no agreement was reached. The club made contingency plans, as interest from within the league came to the fore. They hadn't received a concrete offer from a European club since 2019 when they rejected an offer from Reading, Smith said. Acosta said on Twitter that he was "pushed out" despite "ongoing interests" from Europe.
Acosta made 79 regular-season appearances with the Rapids, helping guide them to the Western Conference's peak. He returned to the USMNT during his time with the Rapids after falling out of favor and is now a regular under Gregg Berhalter.
“He was someone we were keen on keeping, that was first priority," Smith said. "We had lengthy contract negotiations but we just couldn’t find an agreement. … We had to protect the long-term interest of the club. On this occasion, that meant making the trade for what we thought was a strong return. We wish Kellyn all the best, he’s a terrific player and a great guy. LAFC are getting a good one there."
Honduras midfielder Bryan Acosta officially arrived this week. The former Dallas DP had his contract option declined and the Rapids selected his rights in the Re-Entry Draft (Stage 2).
Bryan Acosta made 60 MLS appearances with Dallas over three seasons.
“To be honest, we’ve liked him for quite some time," Smith said. "We kept an eye on him. When he wasn’t having his option picked up by Dallas, we focused in on him, knowing what was happening with the Kellyn Acosta negotiations and the possibility we weren’t going to be able to bring him back. Bryan is a dynamic midfielder who can add bite and passing ability to that group.”
Lastly, the Rapids officially sent Bassett to Feyenoord on an 18-month loan with a purchase option, a deal that could be a new club record if the option on the former homegrown is triggered. The move includes a loan fee as well. Bassett grew into an integral part of the team under head coach Robin Fraser, appearing in 32 of Colorado's 34 regular-season games last year.
In his absence, Colorado acquired Brazilian midfielder Max Alves from Flamengo on a U22 Initiative deal. The 20-year-old has made 25 appearances in his native Brazil.
“Max is a real credit to our recruitment team," Smith said. "They have identified a number of Brazilians to us, including Lucas Esteves and quite a few others. Max really stood out. Technically he’s a gifted player. He can spot a pass, he’s goal dangerous – I don’t think his goal numbers are a fair representation of what we think he can do as he continues his development.
"He’s also active against the ball, defensively he works very hard. We ask a lot of our midfielders.”