Conor Casey is the face of a hungry Colorado franchise.
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2010 Colorado Preview: Rapids still looking for new heights

The Tweet and Lowdown:

The Rapids added veterans to bolster their already potent attack, but will it work? They’re still looking up at the best in the West.

Setting the Scene:

Fate dealt the Rapids an especially tough hand last season, when Rocky Mountain rival Real Salt Lake won the winner-take-all season finale for the final playoff spot. Then Colorado watched RSL surge all the way to its first MLS Cup in franchise history, leaving the Rapids to wonder how their neighbors won a league title before the trophy ever made an appearance in the Mile High City.

So now it’s up to the Rapids’ powerful attacking duo of Conor Casey and Omar Cummings, who last season combined for 24 goals and proved to be perhaps the best attack in the league. Casey was especially impressive, scoring 16 goals and making his mark on the U.S. national team scene, but Cummings could be ready to pop as well if defenses load up on Casey. The Rapids added Revolution mainstays Jeff Larentowicz and Wells Thompson in a January trade, giving Colorado some depth and postseason-savvy beyond the front line that should help down the stretch. Pablo Mastroeni is back for his ninth season with the club, and Matt Pickens is the man in net for Gary Smith, who enters his second full season on the job.

Key Changes:

Players In: Jeff Larentowicz (New England), Wells Thompson ( New England), Andre Akpan (Harvard), Oscar Murillo (Deportes Quindio)

Players Out: Preston Burpo (New England), Cory Gibbs (New England), Pat Noonan (waived)

Star Attraction: Conor Casey

Few players did more to bully his way onto the MLS and international scene than Casey did in 2009. Perhaps the league’s biggest and most imposing forward, Casey proved that an ACL tear in 2008 was old news by setting a new franchise single-season record with 16 goals and giving the MVP voters something to think about in the Mountain Time Zone. Four of his eight national team appearances came during the team’s run to the championship of the Confederations Cup in South Africa, and he’s in the mix for a reserve role for the World Cup. But can he continue his rocket ride to success in 2010?

Unsung Hero: Nick LaBrocca

No player has been steadier or more versatile during the past two seasons than Nick LaBrocca, a steal from the 2007 SuperDraft that most teams would reconsider in a heartbeat. The former reserve player has come into his own in Colorado of late, logging more minutes than any other Rapids player in the last two seasons and earning time at five different positions last season alone. A solid midfielder with a defensive mind, he’s got what coaches quietly covet from all of their players: durability. LaBrocca’s missed just one game during the past two seasons.

Ready for Primetime: Omar Cummings

Folks in Denver know Cummings well, but it’s tough to tell if fans league-wide can tell how good this Jamaican forward is poised to be. Thanks to his potent top line partnership with Casey, Cummings set personal bests with 12 assists and eight goals in 2009, a steady improvement from a great start in 2008. Teams will likely struggle again this year with Cummings’ speed, and if defenses focus on the more-established Casey, Cummings could thrive and put up some serious numbers. Expect even bigger things this time around.

Storylines to Watch:

The trade that landed Larentowicz and Wells was a blockbuster for Colorado, giving the club two proven midfielders and swagger it has been missing over the years. Just how these two fit into the fold – and how quickly the results start showing – could determine the club’s early-season success. If Casey does make the U.S. roster, he could miss as many three weeks leading up to the World Cup opener, and then more time if the Americans advance past the group stage. That puts the onus not just on Cummings but on the club’s defense as well, since it will lack the offensive punch it had with Casey grabbing goals by the handful last season. The club’s Rocky Mountain Cup matches against Real Salt Lake come late in the season this year, on the road on Sept. 25 and back at home in Commerce City in – surprise, surprise - the season finale.

What He Said:

“We didn't do enough to get in the playoffs, much less the final. I thought both teams showed some heart and a lot of character to get to the finals. And I guess it showed us we are capable of beating those teams and with some heart, hard work and a little bit of luck we can make it this season. “

-Omar Cummings

If Everything Goes Right:

There’s no doubt that Colorado might lack some of the talent of its Western Conference counterparts, but the same was said last season of Real Salt Lake before its magical run. If Colorado can capitalize on its unique offensive firepower and not fold under pressure - it finished winless in the final nine games last year – then anything is possible. Don’t expect the Rapids to surge out and lead the West from the get-go, but challenging for a playoff spot should be a given.