The Colorado Rapids find themselves with a lot to be proud of after their last-ditch effort to make it into the postseason on Decision Day. The team has not one but two clinical finishers in Kei Kamara and Diego Rubio, two dynamic wingers in Sam Nicholson and Jonathan Lewis, Rookie of the Year Andre Shinyashiki, a solid midfield partnership of Kellyn Acosta and Jack Price, and fullbacks who can get up and down the wing in Keegan Rosenberry and Sam Vines. The biggest glaring issue for the Rapids is the situation at center back and goalkeeper. There also isn’t much to write about the team’s depth options. As of today, Lalas Abubakar has not completed a move and the option year of Tommy Smith’s contract has not been picked up (though contract negotiations have begun). With Kortne Ford’s health still unclear, the uncertainty of Danny Wilson’s playing ability, and the lack of options at center back, the Rapids have a huge hole in the back line to fix.
As Inter Miami and Nashville SC enter the league, Colorado will have to worry about the expansion draft and protect a total of 12 players. (One more than in previous years.) The draft will happen November 19th and players eligible to be selected will be released on the 16th of November. This year, since there are two new teams joining the league, there will be a total of 10 players selected from the draft. Last year during the expansion draft, Cincinnati selected Kei Kamara who was then immediately traded to Colorado for an international slot. Speaking of drafts, the 2020 SuperDraft will be another well the Rapids can dive into after the successful season that No 5. Overall Draft pick Andre Shinyashiki had. Whether or not the Rapids decide to look from within with its academy or scout out a player with their No. 11 draft pick, the depth of the squad needs to be overhauled with many current depth options on expiring contracts an just not up to the caliber of MLS 3.0. Colorado sit in 9th in the allocation order which will be set to update after the current MLS season ends. The league will also have a two-and-a-half-day transfer window that opens the day after the MLS Cup Final on November 11th and closes November 13th which would be an opportunity for Pádraig Smith to make some moves. Don’t forget, the Rapids also have three open Designated Player spots.
So, what should Pádraig Smith do this off-season?
First thing’s first is figuring out the Lalas Abubakar situation and the center back position at large. Perhaps Abubakar isn’t worth the large amounts of xAM that Columbus might ask for, but bringing him on a permanent move to Colorado should be the priority when it comes to filling out the back line. However, anything more than a combined 450k-500k for the Ghanaian is too steep and the team should look for other options around the league. As for Tommy Smith, contract negotiations look to be promising. Should Smith take a pay cut, the Rapids will have just a bit more financial flexibility going forward. There is also the hope that Kortne Ford returns to the starting eleven (and the squad at large) and finds the form he once had in 2017. It would be undoubtedly be a big boost to the team and a monumental moment for Ford. As for the other center backs, there’s still a sort of ambiguity and uncertainty within the depth chart. Danny Wilson still raises many uncertainties for fans. Personally, I prefer him as a depth option in the midfield playing a holding midfielder role. However, understandably so, the Rapids should not be paying Wilson’s big contract just to be a depth option; he’ll need to play his best soccer to become a focal point in the starting eleven. And if it doesn’t happen, his contract situation needs to be reevaluated. As for the other depth options, I really have no idea what to expect from Kofi Opare, Axel Sjoberg, and Deklan Wynne. All have seemingly played their way out of a contract and I wouldn’t be surprised if two of the three were cut or traded away. Especially when you have Sam Raben (Who, admittedly, only signed a one-year contract) and Abdul Rwatubyaye on reserve contracts and, in my opinion, are more serviceable than the aforementioned three. It’s also worth mentioning that Fraser does know how to shore up a back line and many of these fringe players could see a career renaissance under the new gaffer.
With Tim Howard retiring, the team’s goalkeeper situation looks to be clear. Irwin will most likely occupy that starting spot as the roster stands. However, if I were Pádraig Smith, I’d bring in someone around Irwin’s level to challenge him for that spot. Healthy competition would prevent Irwin from becoming too comfortable and complacent. When Howard was with the club, his spot was never ever in doubt. Barring injury, there was no way that Irwin was ever going to take over as the Rapids No. 1 whilst Howard was there. With Howard gone, that leaves just two keepers on the roster. Bringing in a starting caliber keeper to compete with Irwin is the smart decision to do.
Finally, comes the Rapids open DP spots and what to do with them. What position should Smith invest them in? Looking at the depth chart at striker, you have a multitude of players who have really shown their ability to score. For me there is no need to bring in a DP striker and if Pádraig Smith does, it needs to be a superstar player that can sell tickets, jerseys, and secure a sponsorship. (Chicharito anyone?) On the wings, you have the previously mentioned Lewis and Nicholson and a capable Shinyashiki. Rubio occupies the attacking midfield role with Mezquida as a super sub. Perhaps bringing in some creative attacking players in those positions could be the difference between 57 goals and a potential 70 plus goals. For me, I’m of the opinion that age doesn’t matter in soccer. I’ll happily take a player who has lots of mileage and can still play at a starting caliber. Kei Kamara is 35 years old and was the team’s leading goalscorer. However, the ideal DP situation I’d have is three DP’s with two of them being senior players and the other a Young DP. Of course, Colorado need to avoid the potential of signing another flop like Juan Ramirez, and it’s probably more likely that Smith will indeed sign a flop, (seeing as how his transfers outside of the league have mostly been misses) but signing three designated players sends the message to the fanbase that the Rapids want to compete. I’m not asking for the Rapids to spend multi-million-dollar transfer fees on extravagant players and break the bank. I’m simply asking that the club have some ambition going forward. The past decade of DP signings have done very little to monumentally shift the Rapids into MLS 3.0 and these next set of DP’s will be very telling as to what this team wants to achieve.
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