Backpass: I'm sure it'll be fine
Moves were made, but on the eve of the start of the 2022 season, it definitely feels like this team is a little bit thin.
A week from today, the Colorado Rapids play their first meaningful game in 83 days when they take to the field against Comunicaciones FC. Three days after that home-and-home series concludes, the Rapids will open the 2022 MLS campaign on the road to LAFC. In other words, the team as we know it right now is, barring any last-minute additions, the team we go into battle with for the new season. In the inimitable and somewhat dour words of former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, “you go to war with the army you have.”
Well, here is the army we have:
This is the lineup and formation, as best I can figure.
Based on what we saw in pre-season, the Rapids played a 3-4-3, or 3-4-2-1. With Collen Warner and Jack Price, that showed up as an ‘empty bucket’ - Warner and Price sat deep and picked out passes, and the wingers, Lucas Esteves and Keegan Rosenberry, did most of the advancing through midfield. In fact, Auston Trusty did a fair amount of work dribbling high into the attack, which I found pretty surprising. Keep an eye on that as the season progresses.
Of course, when the season truly starts, Warner isn’t going to start over Mark-Anthony Kaye. Warner was filling in while Kaye was with the Canadian National team, dominating all of CONCACAF. When MAK gets back, he’ll be more of a pure two-way player, and will likely provide more midfield possession and the ability to advance the ball into attacking positions than Warner did.
Of course, up above, I filled out the buildlineup.com template for a 3-5-2. That’s because I believe Brazilian signing Max Alves is supposed to start, and if he’s starting, it has to be alongside Price and Kaye - neither of those guys is sitting. That means the formation will likely change a little.
That seems the most likely scenario to me. In two years of watching Robin Fraser roll out the lineup, I’ve found him to be tactically flexible around his best XI. I don’t truly believe he loves playing three center backs - it’s just that he has three really good center backs, and thus he makes use of all of them.
On a related note, Fraser didn’t get the much desired central striker - hold on - (checks twitter) - nope, still didn’t get one. That means that a pure 3-4-3 with two wings and one central striker doesn’t make a lot of sense. Michael Barrios played as the central striker a little last year, but he’s best when he’s given the ball at his feet and has somebody to run at - not as much as the target bursting through the line. We’ll see, though. Fraser doesn’t have a dominant number nine, and so a 3-5-2 makes a lot more sense than a 3-4-2-1, because that’d make the best use of his best XI.
To elaborate further1: the real reason a 3-4-3 doesn’t make sense is that we’ve got three good central defenders (Trusty, Danny Wilson, and Lalas Abubakar), three good midfielders (Kaye, Price, and I assume Max2), two good wingbacks (Esteves and Rosenberry), and one good winger (Barrios). We don’t have three dominant forwards - if we did, I could see an argument for playing 3-4-3 and sending Max or Jack Price to the bench. But we don’t.
In terms of depth, there are lots of questions here.
Braian Galván is out for the season with a torn ACL and meniscus, which is terrible because he had made such strides last year. It’s also bad because he could play left wingback or left or right forward - now we don’t really have a really have a proper backup left back. Sebastian Anderson, who may not even make the senior team, is the closest thing we have, and my recollection is he played left back once in 2019 and didn’t look too convincing at it Granted, he was just 16 years old at the time, but still. According to fb reference, he played 3 matches in 2021 for Colorado Springs Switchbacks at LB, and spend the rest of the season at RB or as a defensive midfielder. If Sebby isn’t the backup left wingback, another left footed player like Andre Shinyashiki might be the guy. Or… it’ll be Auston Trusty, and we’re back to a 4-3-3.
How confident am I that this is the starting XI? At goalkeeper, defender, and midfielder? Very confident, At striker? No idea.
I can see a world where we open the season with Barrios and Diego Rubio up top. I can see a starting lineup of a 3-4-3 with Max, Rubio, and Barrios. I could imagine Shinyashiki starting over Rubio. I can imagine Darren Yapi or Yaya Toure supplanting Shinyashiki, Rubio, or Barrios within a month into the season.
In midfield, there’s some really interesting backup options, but also our starting three is good enough that those backups only likely need to be good for 20 minutes a week to relieve an exhausted mid. Oliver Larraz and Phillip Mayaka have played in preseason and both have looked good - I especially like what I’ve seen of Clemson grad Mayaka. Both seem likely to wake up every Saturday morning eager to check the team sheet if they’ve made the 18 man roster for the day. Both will likely learn on many occasions that they didn’t make it, and instead they’ll be headed across town to play at DU’s CIBER Field. Might be worth both of them investing in the RTD Monthly Pass, as it is a lot cheaper to ride the light rail to DU than it is to park there. #protip.
I didn’t add Nicolas Mezquida to the depth chart simply because I ran out of room, but he’s there, and out of respect for the veteran, it’s unlikely they’ll dump him on Rapids 2 very often. Regarding the Rapids three draft picks, Mohamed Omar, Anthony Markanich, and Roberto Molina, all signs point to at least two out of the three having been released. Markanich might still be around, but I expect him to be with Rapids 2 at best, and not the senior team. If all three aren’t released outright, I’ll be shocked.
So where are we?
Ultimately, this team’s offseason was an elementary school square dance - one step forward, one step back, one step left, one step right, swing your partner, do-si-do3, and we’re right back where we started. We gained an Acosta; we lost an Acosta. We gained a Max Alves; we lost a Cole Bassett. We added Aboubacar Keita. We lost Braian Galván. We started with three open DP spots. We ended with three open DP spots.
I am pretty excited about the young players on this team. Yaya Toure, Darren Yapi, Phillip Mayaka, and Michael Edwards all look like players that could pull 300 to 1000 minutes this year and make a difference for this team. But even if they mostly play in the reserve league (AKA MLS Next Pro), on any given day when all four start a match for Rapids 2, AKA ‘The Cobras’,4 I would definitely tune in to see that.
With a few months left of the winter transfer window5, it still seems like the team has one move left to make - things have been kind of quiet, and the club has really kept it’s communications and accessibility with media tight, like a team that is waiting to reveal something. Is that just a left back depth signing, an in-league GAM player purchase at winger, or a long-awaited DP striker signing? Or is this me feeling for a phantom limb that never existed and never will - the projections and yearnings of a man that knows that Stan Kroenke has spent more money on the paint at the LA Rams Hollywood Park Stadium than he has on Rapids DPs in the team’s history? I’ll let you know in May, I guess.
You may not have needed me to elaborate further. Sometimes I have a hard time telling when I’ve under-explained or over-explained.
We just got our first appearance of Max and Bryan Acosta today via the Rapids social accounts. Acosta was on national team duty with Honduras. Max was in Brazil getting his visa taken care of, according to a source. Additionally, I have learned that Andre Shinyashiki was in Brazil as well getting his green card, and will not count as an international player for this upcoming season.
I had to google how to spell do-si-do for you people.
Matt explained the origin of that name during a recent episode. Pretty sure it was this one: https://blubrry.com/rapids96_holdingthehighline/83789562/s4e40-lucky-shoes/ .
The first window doesn’t close till May 1 (!)