You can say this about Robin Fraser: The man does not shy away from a challenge.
The new Colorado Rapids head coach, announced on Sunday, brings extensive experience as a player in MLS, and has burnished his reputation as an assistant coach at Real Salt Lake, the New York Red Bulls and Toronto FC.
But he also has MLS head coaching experience, with a stint leading Chivas USA in 2011-12. What does that stop tell us about Fraser the head coach?
As mentioned, it shows Fraser isn't afraid of a tough project. He joined a Chivas USA side that was only a year removed from four consecutive postseason appearances, but the results certainly weren't there, as he went 15-32-21 overall. The club finished well out of a playoff spot each time. The highlight of his tenure was a run to the U.S. Open Cup semifinal in 2012, but the Seattle Sounders wiped the floor with Chivas and no silverware would come.
With Chivas, Fraser played conservatively, a 4-5-1 or 4-4-2 formation that was very much defense-first. Some of that likely came from Fraser's experience as a defender and an affection for taking care of the back to build in attack later. However, Chivas were totally overmatched against most of MLS in terms of roster quality. The result was that nine or 10 men defended, the striker(s) was left on an island, and the team shipped goals.
But the giant caveat is that Fraser was working for a club that was going through massive changes behind the scenes, and the spending power wasn't there. Truthfully, his Chivas teams didn't display much to make the neutral think he was the next hot coaching talent, and it's probably why he didn't get another chance for seven years.
How much of that was because of Fraser and how much was because of Chivas? We're likely to find out the answer now, as the Rapids won't be among the league's top spenders, but they will be clearing a few huge contracts at season's end and should have some ability to sign reinforcements for 2020. Colorado also have a cadre of Homegrown players who look like they can be the bedrock of the club's future, and there are signs of hope, even if won't be an overnight turnaround.
Most of all, Fraser's time as an assistant has provided perspective on a league that has made substantial changes since 2012. He played a big role in molding tactics both at the Red Bulls and Toronto FC, which helped both clubs win trophies – a Supporters' Shield, the Red Bulls' first, and a domestic treble at TFC, the first in league history. It seems unlikely he'll use a 4-5-1 or even a 4-4-2 with the Rapids most of the time, and given the penchant of Toronto FC to make major tactical changes, he'll likely be more flexible with approach, formation and tactics this go-around.
Fraser was always a professional when managing Chivas USA, and he had to pay his dues before getting another opportunity to be a head coach in MLS. Given his experience as both a head coach and an assistant, don't be surprised if Fraser is the man to make the Rapids a genuine competitor – and maybe even a contender – again.