Jeff Cunningham

Clavijo sparks Rapids attack for '05

and more specifically, stellar goalkeeping -- was not enough to carry the Rapids all the way to the MLS Cup Final.

While their defense seemed to be at a championship level, the Rapids found it tough to win games due to an inability to score goals. Their defense only allowed 32 goals in 30 regular season games, but on the other end of the field they could only find the net 29 times -- the first team in MLS history to average less than a goal a game.

Coach Tim Hankinson was shown the door following the '04 season, but the club interestingly hired Fernando Clavijo -- who was a defender with the U.S. national team -- to take his place. His former position did not stop him from attempting to rectify the team's offensive struggles this offseason.

"We'll see a lot of changes on the offensive side," said Clavijo of his team. "We will give players that have played in the league before an opportunity to shine again, this time wearing the Rapids colors."

Jeff Cunningham and Wolde Harris, players that have both been able to find the net in MLS seasons past, both found their way to Colorado during the offseason. Cunningham comes from the Columbus Crew, where he scored nine goals last season, and Harris returns to the league after a successful stint in Sweden's second division. Former collegiate standout Luchi Gonzalez also makes a return to MLS, joining the Rapids after also playing in Sweden and spending time with Sporting Cristal in Peru.

The Rapids defense was tops in MLS last season thanks in large part to the performance of Joe Cannon in goal. He led the league in saves (150) and shutouts (10, tied with Jon Busch of Columbus) and almost single-handedly thrust Colorado into the MLS Cup Playoffs. He will look to match his Goalkeeper of the Year performance this season, though his job could be slightly less demanding this time out due to a few defensive additions.

Hunter Freeman was drafted by the Rapids with the seventh overall pick of the 2005 MLS SuperDraft. A member of the U.S. under-20 national team, Freeman begins his professional career after honing his trade with the University of Virginia.

A second youth international also falls into the ranks, Israeli Guy Melamed signing with Colorado after being taken in the fourth round of the SuperDraft. Good size and strength make him difficult to beat, which helped make him a three-time recipient of the Boston College MVP award. Nat Borchers and Ritchie Kotschau will provide the veteran leadership in the Rapids' defense.

With Clavijo thickening up the defense, he will likely push Pablo Mastroeni up into a defensive midfield role this season after being used primarily as a defender by Hankinson. Mastroeni has proven his worth as a defensive midfielder while with the U.S. national team and he is adept at thwarting opponents' attacks before they move deep into the danger area.

Attacking midfielder options for the Rapids this season include Kyle Beckerman, Mark Chung and wingers Chris Henderson and Martin Morales. A dangerous left-footed player, Morales should add some punch from the wing and provide good service to the Colorado front line. He also has a reputation as a free-kick specialist.

Cunningham and Harris are not the only players on this Rapids team capable of scoring goals. Jean Philippe Peguero of Haiti scored seven goals in 18 games last season and is sure to get his chance again in 2005, while Eugene Sepuya and several other young players could also see time.

"We have added new exciting young offensive players that we want to develop to give continuity to the roster and compile a team that will remain for seasons to come," said Clavijo.

With the offensive responsibilities now being split between several players, rather than asking Peguero to carry the load on his own, the Rapids should be able to produce more offense this year. Perhaps they will find that what really wins championships is a combination of defense and offense.

Jonathan Nierman is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.