The 2019 MLS season is barely 25 percent done, and we already have a winner in the sack race.
The numbers behind this decision are damning. The Rapids occupy last place in both the Western Conference and overall league table — indeed, they're head-and-shoulders ahead in the wooden spoon race, with zero wins and two points from nine matches for an average of 0.22 points per game (Vancouver are a distant second there at 0.67 PPG).
They’ve leaked a league-worst 24 goals over those nine games for an average of 2.67 goals conceded per game, on track to give up about 90 this season, which would shatter the league record of 74 set by Orlando City last year.
Hudson took over the Mile High Club in late 2017, fresh off a stint in charge of New Zealand’s national team that ended with the All Whites falling just short of qualification for the 2018 World Cup. He’d also previously led Bahrain, had a stint coaching Tottenham Hotspurs’ reserve side and carried North American experience in the form of a run in the old USL Second Division with Real Maryland Monarchs – the latter of which gave me (ultimately false) hope that he’d plumb the domestic pyramid to find hidden gems for the Rapids.
He departs Colorado with a cumulative league record of 8W-26L-9D and a -39 goal differential, and didn’t do so hot in knockout competitions, either, bowing out to Toronto FC in the first round of the 2018 Concacaf Champions League — afterward shrugging that “this is preseason for us” — and getting upset by Nashville SC in their first and only U.S. Open Cup match last year.
Those are the numbers. And then there’s the vibe around the club.
When I watched Hudson’s Rapids, I generally saw a squad with reasonable amounts of talent in midfield and up top – particularly this year, with winter arrivals like Benny Feilhaber and Kei Kamara – that still managed to lose games because of murky tactics, individual errors and generally woeful defending. Hudson, however, saw something different.
“We are fighting at the bottom with a bottom group of players and we have to find a way to pick up results whilst also being a team that tries to play a certain way,” he said after Saturday’s 1-0 loss at Atlanta United, alluding to a “massive, massive gap in class” between his team and the league’s elite.
“The only way it’s going to be a quick fix is if you wave a magic wand at it and throw lots of money at it. Clearly we’re not doing that … There are teams with a lot more quality than us. And that’s what we’re competing against. And no one talks about it.”
I generally salute coaches and players who bestow on us the rare gift of brutal honesty. Yet Hudson’s incendiary words were something else altogether, and in retrospect either hinted at or clinched his firing. The message surely went over like a lead balloon in the Rapids’ locker room, where unity and collective belief are the starting points for any hopes of rescuing this troubled campaign, and grated on the ears of club executives and long-suffering as well.
Most importantly for our purposes: They’re just not accurate.
Yes, the Rapids aren’t big spenders compared to Atlanta or the LA Galaxy or TFC; that can be said for most of the league. Peruse the many rankings and analyses of the most recent salary figures released by the MLS Players Association – as always, readers are urged to take those stats with a grain of salt, and we don’t have 2019’s yet – and you’ll find that Colorado are NOT at the bottom. They’re nowhere near it.
With total guaranteed compensation outlays of somewhere in the vicinity of $10 million last season, the Rapids sit right in the middle of the MLS pack, ahead of 2018 playoff teams like D.C. United, FC Dallas, Columbus Crew SC and even the Supporters’ Shield-winning New York Red Bulls.
No, it’s not what Colorado spend, but where. Look at this list of some of their top earners – and again, use the customary caution about MLSPU numbers – and tell me if the spending remotely matches the accompanying performances and productivity:
- Tim Howard: $2,475,000 (all figures annual guaranteed compensation)
- Yannick Boli: $907,500
- Tommy Smith: $640,000
- Danny Wilson: $540,000
- Jack Price: $407,500
- Bismark Adjei-Boateng: $361,250
- Sam Nicholson: $311,456
Boli, Smith, Wilson, Price and Nicholson all arrived on Hudson’s watch, though it’s only fair to note that EVP and GM Padraig Smith appears to be the primary point person on acquisitions.
In attacking terms, the aforementioned group has contributed a combined total of one goal and one assist this season, and 10g/11a last year. Defensively, well… Howard, Smith, Wilson and Price are the first-choice spine of one of the leakiest back lines in recent MLS history.
“This is a team that has spent a lot on defense and is absolutely terrible,” said longtime Rapids fan and beat writer Mark Asher Goodman on the Denver Post’s “Holding The High Line” podcast this week. “You [previously] had an island of cheap, misfit, discount toys on the backline, and Pablo Mastroeni duct-taped that together into something that was a remotely average defense. And the new regime came in and spent a whole bunch of money and it hasn't done anything.”
Hudson also asked for patience after Week 9, dubbing his project “a slow rebuild.” But in that regard, too, he’s out of step with a rapidly-changing MLS.
Five years ago MLS sat out from the crowd as a global outlier in terms of coaches’ job security; the league's average managerial tenure ran more than three times that of Mexico’s, and more than six times that of Brazil. Back then gaffers in his position would probably get the time he sought. But not today.
The league has broken records for coaching turnover for two years running. Nine jobs changed hands in 2018 alone. A trend of high-octane imports like Tata Martino, Remi Garde and Matias Almeyda has taken shape. With spending on players rising across the board, the stakes are higher and thus front-office trigger fingers are itchier.
As we learned, even clubs in rebuilding mode like Colorado aren’t immune to those factors, and garden-variety excuses won’t cool the hot seats elsewhere, either.