Who is the odd man out in a crowded Rapids midfield?
With the acquisition of Connor Rowan, playing time for Rapids central mids is at a premium. What will that mean for the roster?
Over the course of a 34 game season, each of the eleven positions on a soccer team has a grand total of 3,060 minutes to be divvied up. As exciting as the addition of a new player is for fans, and as much potential that it brings to a coach, it creates the additional headache of telling someone else, “Sorry kid; you aren’t going to start.” All you need to do is recall the Gio Reyna < - > Gregg Berhalter kerfuffle (snit? brouhaha? There’s so many good synonyms for ‘petty slapfight’) to know that a reduction in playing time can escalate between player and manager to toxic levels.
Colorado Rapids added a new young buck from Wolverhampton Wanderers yesterday when they announced the signing of Connor Ronan to a four year deal.1 Depending on how you turn it in the light, this deal for the 24-year-old can be seen in many different ways.
If you read the Rapids press release with shameless fangirl/boy optimism and breathless excitement, he’s
A young player from a Premier League club with youth international experience - a guaranteed starter for the Rapids and will certainly be the lynchpin in midfield this team desperately needs to turn around a team that sputtered in 2022.
If you analyze the method of acquisition with the skepticism of someone who recalls past transfers from Premiership/Championship sides, he’s
A formerly promising young player which the big club no longer projected as having a spot with the team, not unlike Kevin Doyle or Nana Boateng or Jack Price; and perhaps MLS would be a more fitting level.
If you look at this move standing in the boots of current Rapids midfielder Max Alves or Bryan Acosta, he makes you think
Rapids deep thinker Richard Fleming took a whack at the starting lineup based on this move and came to this conclusion:2
There’s a lot to be compelled by this, but a lot to disagree with too. Leave alone the specifics of who is where - this is effectively a 5-1-4, since Kevin Cabrál and Calvin Harris are attacking wide forwards, Darren Yapi and Diego Rubio are strikers, and Braian Galván and Sam Nicholson are attacking wingbacks. If we played this line up, every game would produce 9 goals for the two sides combined.3 It's hard to defend with a 1-man midfield. There are ways to compensate for that, but this isn't what I would foresee. Here's my suggested starting XI.
With a Rapids team that hemorrhaged goals last year - 57 goals allowed, 13th out of 14 teams in the Western Conference - this team will want to stop the opponents *first*, generate offense second. There are two ways to do this. First, defend the midfield with numbers, i.e. three central midfielders. Second, make sure the three guys you throw out there in midfield can defend a little.
Rubio is going to be that center forward / attacking mid swing man. He played both roles last year, sometimes in the same game. With 16 goals in 2022, he’s in the starting XI in Sharpie marker, no doubt. He’s a decent forward defender, but that’s not what he’s there to do. That means there needs to be some toughness behind him.
Jack Price is much more of a long ball service wizard than a proper roam-and-destroy number six (defensive midfielder), but he’s also integral to who this team is, and thus I assume he is going to be there. Without having seen Connor Ronan, I still think he’s in a toe-to-toe fight with Cole Bassett for this starting job. Thinking Ronan is going to start is based on a logical assumption - that the pitch Rapids GM Pádraig Smith made in bringing him over was that he’d get minutes. Ronan, on paper, belonged o Wolverhampton. In practice, he’d been loaned out over the past five years to St. Mirren (Scotland) Portsmouth and Blackpool (League One), FC DAC 1904 (Slovakia) and Grasshopper (Switzerland). Kid probably wants to actually get minutes for the team that signed him.
That leaves four midfielders in limbo - Max Alves, Ralph Priso, Bryan Acosta, and Oliver Larraz.
Max has struggled in Colorado. For a full explanation, read this. His dribbling abilities, though, allow him to be a useful option as a wide player, if there’s a need. His price tag - a $750,000 transfer fee plus incentives that may or may not have been reached - makes a sale to another club a difficult proposition, since the Rapids FO would have to accept that he’s a sunk cost. Ideally, you play him, he does some things, and then he’s proven his worth. Or you play him, he does some things, and you move him now that he’s recouped some value. You could, of course, just eat it. Colorado did that with Giles Barnes, and Yannick Boli, and Gabriel Torres, and the final year of Tim Howard.4
Nonetheless, if there’s a proper starting attacking mid on this team, it’s Rubio. Max will need to be useful bringing something else to the equation.
Ralph Priso and Bryan Acosta are both fighting to be the same thing, which is backup to Jack Price or backup to Cole Bassett. Assuming Bassett gets 2000 minutes, and Price gets 2000 minutes, and Connor Ronan gets 1000 minutes, then you’re looking at probably 500 minutes apiece for Acosta and Priso. For Priso, who enters 2023 at age 20 having played only 219 minutes for Colorado last year, he’d really like to have a bigger slice of the pie. For Acosta, who played 2084 minutes last year, 500 minutes would a massive step down, but one he may need to accept. I wasn’t wowed by anything he did last year, which is why I think there’s very little chance he beats out Cole Bassett for a starting spot. If he’s not starting, will he be happy? Or if other teams see him as a valuable asset sitting on the bench when he could be playing, will a deal be struck?
Could either Priso or Acosta be on the move? Priso’s got more sale value, but he also just arrived. Acosta would be a good asset for a team looking for an MLS veteran, but as I said, his performance last year underwhelmed me. Maybe the team stands pat till the midseason window and reassesses.
The oddest man out here, of course, is Oliver Larraz, who spent all of 2022 on the shelf due to a broken leg, after having spent most of 2021 on loan with USL side San Diego Loyal. He’s obviously due to get time with Rapids 2, where he can settle back into things and regain his situational awareness at game speed. I don’t think anyone will lament this outcome. Unless Ollie is tearing it up on the junior circuit, the Rapids don’t need to feel pressure to put him in the show. The bummer is that he’s 21 years old, his contract is up this year, and he’s on a homegrown minimum contract. This would be the year he’d want to prove something, but there’s little opportunity for that to take shape.
Club option for a fifth. There’s almost always a club option for a fifth.
He also assumed the deal for Brondby defender Andreas Maxmø is a done deal, although that isn’t the case yet.
I suspect Colorado would see a lot of 6-3 shellackings.
They didn’t really ‘eat’ the last contract year of Howard, since he actually played. They played him every week, even though he was a below average MLS player at that point.