Pablo Mastroeni - Colorado Rapids - March 4, 2017
Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Stejskal: Don't rush to judge Rapids | Gil takes pay cut to move to Orlando

Last week, after the Colorado Rapids sent Sam Cronin and Marc Burch to Minnesota in exchange for Mohammed Saeid and Josh Gatt, I saw a lot of this sort of thinking making the rounds on Twitter:

It’s by no means an unfair train of thought. Colorado dealt their captain and a backline stalwart from last year’s surprise Supporters’ Shield runners-up, lost a ton of MLS experience, knowhow and leadership and appeared to get comparatively little in return. On its own, the move was a definite headscratcher.

But deals like this don’t happen in a vacuum, and Colorado had their reasons for pulling the trigger. The biggest? After scoring just 39 times in 2016, it's clear that Rapids brass want their team to be more forward-leaning.

Last Friday’s move could accomplish that in a couple of different ways. First, by dealing Cronin and Burch and reportedly convincing Minnesota to keep a portion of Gatt’s salary on their books, Colorado opened up a bunch of budget space. A few executives I’ve spoken to are convinced the Rapids will use that room to sign a Targeted Allocation Money-level attacker, potentially in the current transfer window.

Second, moving Cronin, 30, opens up a spot in the lineup for 22-year-old midfielder Bismark “Nana” Adjei-Boateng, who Colorado signed from Manchester City this winter using TAM. The Rapids are very high on the Ghanaian box-to-box player, who spent the past four years on loan with Norwegian club Stromsgodset IF, where he recorded 18 goals and eight assists in 101 appearances across all competitions. He plays higher up the field than Cronin, and, assuming he locks down the starting spot next to defensive midfielder Micheal Azira, should give the Rapids a slightly more aggressive attacking posture.

They also got a somewhat underrated, relatively cheap piece in Saeid, who recorded six assists in 50 appearances in two years with Crew SC before being picked up by Minnesota this winter. Like Boateng, the 26-year-old Swede is more of an attacker than Cronin, and is coming off of a strong 2016 that saw him tally five assists in 24 starts. Columbus were drastically better when he was in the lineup last year, going 8-7-9 in his 24 starts compared to a 0-7-3 mark in the 10 games he began on the bench.

Gatt has talent too, but is much more of an unknown quantity after undergoing three major knee operations in recent years. Rapids brass believe Gatt may be primed to finally leave those injuries behind him, but there are no guarantees that the 25-year-old will contribute much in 2017.

Boateng, Saeid and a potential TAM attacker should open things up a bit for the Rapids offensively, and the club has enough faith in their remaining pieces in central midfield and at outside back that they don’t fear a huge defensive drop-off. Azira was really, really solid playing next to Cronin last year, and has more range than his ex-midfield partner. The Rapids also have a couple of decent fullbacks in Eric Miller and Mekeil Williams, who started 21 and 17 games in 2016, and an option in Dillon Serna that they've used at left back a few times over the years.

Cronin and Burch are a pretty high price for Saeid and Gatt, but in order to create that much cap space, Colorado had to lose a little quality. Still, the two newest Rapids won’t determine whether or not we look back on this deal as a good one for Colorado. That’ll fall on Boateng, Azira, Miller, Williams and that potential new attacker, all of whom – assuming the new signing arrives at some point this year – will play a major role in determining whether the Rapids turn their surprising 2016 into sustained success this season.  

Gil takes pay cut to come to Orlando

Orlando City completed their deal for Luis Gil on Thursday, announcing that they’ve acquired the former Real Salt Lake midfielder on loan from Liga MX club Queretaro for the 2017 season, with an option to permanently acquire him at the end of the year.

As I reported last week, the deal – which was first reported by ESPN’s Julie Stewart-Binks last Monday and confirmed by the Orlando Sentinel’s Alicia Rose DelGallo and the MLS Transfers Twitter account earlier this week – hit a snag as Orlando, Queretaro and Gil haggled over financial terms.

Two sources confirmed to me that the issues were over Gil’s salary. Orlando offered the 23-year-old less than he was owed in 2017 by Queretaro, who, in turn, didn’t want to be on the hook for any difference between what Orlando would pay and what they owed Gil under the initial contract. The two sides were both dug in, and the deal looked like it was in jeopardy until, according to the sources, Gil agreed to take the lower amount to reunite with ex-RSL head coach Jason Kreis in Central Florida.

He hasn’t played much since moving to Queretaro in December 2015, but Gil has plenty of MLS experience and should provide a solid option for Kreis at several spots in the midfield. A No. 10 throughout his US youth national team career, Gil spent years as a shuttler in RSL’s old diamond formation, doing yeoman’s work on both ends of the field alongside longtime Salt Lake playmaker Javier Morales and defensive midfielder Kyle Beckerman.

He talked on Thursday about wanting to “cover ground” and make things easier for both Cyle Larin and Kaka, who is progressing in his injury rehab. He should do that and then some, and his arrival should give the Lions a better shot at qualifying for the playoffs for the first time in their MLS history. 

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