Cynical observers of the post-Hudson bump experienced by the Rapids in 2019 regularly commented that the shift in form wouldn’t be sustainable. As the club enters the final week of preseason, Colorado appears poised to assuage all doubts.
“As we put a group together we start to see these sorts of cohesive ideas,” Head Coach Robin Fraser said of the Rapids’ style of play following the club’s 4-2 drubbing of Chicago Fire F.C. in the club’s first public preseason match. “It feels like we’re moving in the right direction.”
Saturday’s match exhibited that Colorado’s ideas behind attacking, possession-with-purpose soccer hadn’t died with the threat of the plague-ridden rodents surrounding Dick’s Sporting Goods Park.
From the opening whistle, the largely first-string Rapids lineup had the Fire on the ropes. Andre Shinyashiki and Sam Nicholson terrified Chicago on the wings and consistently found their way into threatening positions. In build-up play, Colorado played with clear intent: the midfield trio of Jack Price, Kellyn Acosta, and Younes Namli were excellent in delivering crisp passes to the squad’s forwards.
Despite starting off on the right foot, the Rapids were caught napping on a counter-attack after Przemyslaw Frankowski and C.J. Sapong combined to break the deadlock in the 9th minute. It was the first time Chicago had a bout of possession in Colorado’s half exceeding fifteen seconds.
Nevertheless, Colorado persisted with Fraser’s plan. The Rapids immediately jumped back on the attack and less than fifteen minutes later, Shinyashiki found the equalizer.
“Together, we’re finding ways to break down the opposition and that takes eleven players on the field,” the 2019 MLS Rookie of the Year said post-game, “I thought we did a great job of that today.”
Once the second half rolled around, the Rapids were finding openings in the Fire’s defense with ease. Nicholson and Acosta found each found the back of the net before the bulk of starters were subbed out in the 77th. Chicago cut the lead in half moments later after Auston Trusty lost his man on a corner, but Jeremy Kelly connected with Nicolas Mezquida in the final minutes to secure a 4-2 victory.
While the result itself is meaningless – it’s preseason after all – there are some interesting takeaways to consider as the Rapids enter their final week of camp.
Final Roster Decisions Expected Soon
Most of Colorado’s trialists have departed camp at this point. 15-year-old Rapids Academy product Darren Yapi left to join the U.S. U-17s, while Andres Alarcon and Brian Lopez returned to Argentina. Jacob Hauser-Ramsey and Kwadwo Poku were the final cuts, but were longshots to make the final squad in the first place.
After featuring in several closed-door scrimmages, Academy players Abraham Rodriguez and Will Vint joined up with the Switchbacks preseason in Herriman, Utah. The club appears to be signalling the two are in the team’s long-term plan. As the only potential third goalkeeper that trialled, Rodriguez will almost certainly sign before the start of the regular season (though he’ll probably spend most of the season in the Springs). Vint’s official arrival might hinge on the date when he officially can qualify as a homegrown player.
Kelly, as well as fellow draftee Robin Afamefuna, remain in Los Angeles with the first team. I always anticipated that Kelly would sign (you don’t trade for players in the draft unless you’re serious about them), but Afamefuna sticking around after the first round of cuts sure looks like an indication that he’ll be on the roster on Opening Day as well.
If Afamefuna, Kelly, Rodriguez, and Vint are signed, Colorado’s roster would round out to an even 30 after accounting for the arrival of Braian Galván.
The Newcomers Have Arrived
By all accounts, Colorado’s new acquisitions have slotted into the side with ease. Namli played with chemistry unexpected of someone who joined only a week prior, Kelly seemed a natural in the right back role, and Drew Moor – his mistake on the first goal aside – seems determined to make a case for starting center back. As it stands, the Rapids haven’t finalized their starting pair – though it will certainly be two of Abubakar, Moor, and Trusty.
One question mark is the recently-sidelined Nicolas Benezet. The Frenchman did not participate in Saturday’s match due to a broken nose sustained in the midweek closed-door scrimmage against New England Revolution. It usually takes a 2-4 weeks to recover from such an injury, so I’d be surprised if he suits up during the rest of preseason. That will certainly delay his regular season debut, though there’s no official word yet from the club on when he might make his first appearance.
Anderson Found Time on the Wings
Rapids Academy graduate Sebastian Anderson put in three hundred-plus minutes at right fullback in 2019, but his thirteen minutes on Saturday were found as a right winger following Nicholson’s substitution. Anderson linked well with Kelly on the right flank and looked confident on the ball in his new role.
While this might merely be preseason experimentation, I wouldn’t be shocked if there’s more to come from the 17-year-old in this position. Anderson’s quickness suits an advanced role well and his play last season demonstrated a keen eye for getting forward even from a defensive position. With Keegan Rosenberry locked-in at right back, the U.S. Youth International might need to work his way into the side via the wings.
Two Before the Real Thing
The Rapids close out their preseason with a closed-door match against the Galaxy on Wednesday and a public Saturday fixture against Toronto F.C. Colorado is likely to use similar lineups as the week before – you’ll probably see the depth guys getting significant minutes midweek and another mostly-first choice squad on the weekend.
From there, it’s possible that the team travels to Washington, D.C. for the regular season opener straight from Los Angeles, but a final decision hasn’t been made yet. Either way, the anticipation for the 2020 campaign in the Rapids camp is palpable.
“We’ve still got a long way to go,” Nicholson said of the team’s final two weeks of preparation before their match against D.C. United, “But we’re looking forward to the season starting.”
Follow Joseph on Twitter: @jspsam