For the next two weeks, MLSsoccer.com will preview each of the 19 teams in Major League Soccer, beginning with the clubs that brought up the bottom of the table in 2011 and ending with the league's newest addition, the Montreal Impact. This is part two of two previewing Colorado's 2012 season. You can find Part 1 here.
Depth Chart: 1. Matt Pickens, 2. Steward Ceus, 3. Ian Joyce
Strengths: Pickens started all 34 regular-season games last season and is a respected, vocal leader on the back line whose consistent play has contributed to the Rapids’ success the last two years. He may be one of the more underrated goalkeepers in MLS.
Weaknesses: At times, Pickens has been susceptible to the costly mistake — in particular a poorly timed blunder in the regular season finale at Vancouver, where he inexplicably let a cross go by him for a goal. That was nearly the difference between a home match and a road trip in the play-in round. The depth behind Pickens is unproven.
Wildcard: Ceus is a big boy standing at 6-foot-6, and Oscar Pareja has tried to get the former Albany Great Dane some looks during early preseason action. But it will be hard for the 24-year-old to see playing time so long as Pickens stays healthy.
Depth Chart: RB: 1. Kosuke Kimura, 2. Anthony Wallace, 3. Luis Zapata; CB: 1. Drew Moor – Marvell Wynne, 2. Tyrone Marshall, 3. Scott Palguta; LB: 1. Hunter Freeman, 2. Luis Zapata, 3. Anthony Wallace
Strengths: Moor and Wynne will return once again to form one of the better center back combinations in the league. Wynne’s blazing speed and Moor’s prowess in the air have proved to be a cornerstone upon which the Rapids can build.
Weaknesses: Left back has been a problem at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park since Wallace's injury a year ago, and the Rapids hope they’ve found their solution with Freeman and Zapata. Kimura at times looked hesitant to push forward, and cannot afford to do the same this year under Pareja’s attack-minded setup.
Wildcard: Zapata impressed the coaching staff during a three-week trial and is now determined to make a push into the starting lineup. Should Freeman or Kimura falter, Zapata is more than capable of stealing minutes.
Depth Chart: RCM 1. Brian Mullan, 2. Wells Thompson, 3. Ross LeBeaux; CM 1. Pablo Mastroeni – Jeff Larentowicz, 2. Jamie Smith, 3. Martín Rivero, 4. Tony Cascio, 5. Joseph Nane
Strengths: There is veteran leadership and plenty of brute strength in the heart of Pareja’s 4-3-3. Opposing teams hate playing this midfield; the tooth-and-nail Mastroeni is coming off a solid 2011 and Larentowicz was arguably the Rapids’ best player a year ago and earned three US caps this offseason as a result.
Weaknesses: Sanna Nyassi’s and Macoumba Kandji’s respective departures cut into the depth of a team that could certainly use it, considering Mastroeni and Mullan are both on the wrong side of 30. Behind the aging midfield, there is very little proven depth.
Wildcards: Cascio scored a wonder goal in the Rapids’ consolation game in the preseason Hawaiian Invitational Tournament and is making a bid for playing time out of the gate, while Rivero scored four goals in 20 games last summer for Argentine club Rosario Central, and could be prime for a breakout opening season at Dick’s Sporting Goods park.
Depth Chart: 1. Conor Casey, 2. Omar Cummings, 3. Jaime Castrillón, 4. Quincy Amarikwa 5. Andre Akpan
Strengths: When healthy, Conor Casey and Omar Cummings are amongst the elite goal-scoring tandems in MLS. The duo combined for 30 regular-season goals in the Rapids’ run to the MLS title in 2010, and the blend of Casey’s strength and Cummings’ speed has proved to be unstoppable at times.
Weaknesses: The lack of depth up front proved costly during the heart of the season, and that depth decreased during the offseason with Caleb Folan’s departure. Amarikwa and Akpan haven't done much with the sparse playing time they've earned over the past couple of seasons.
Wildcards: Akpan might not have had the same overwhelmingly crazy impact as Harvard classmate Jeremy Lin, but he showed flashes of strength and speed in 12 games (five starts) last year, and he could be an intriguing bench option for Pareja this year, particularly if Casey or Cummings get hurt.
Chris Bianchi covers the Colorado Rapids for MLSsoccer.com.