Editorial (October 29, 2017) – The Colorado Rapids 2017 season ended this past Sunday. They finished third worst in all of Major League Soccer one year after making it to the Western Conference Finals. This year left a lot to be desired and the off-season will bring a number of changes.
Colorado Rapids 2017 Season Review
The Rapids finished with 33 points and a record of 9-19-6. They had a -20 goal differential and the worst road record in the league, 1-14-2. With that they finished at or near the bottom of the Western Conference three of the last four seasons. Because of the poor season, they dismissed club legend Head Coach Pablo Mastroeni.
For me, it’s Dominique Badji. He recorded 9 goals and 6 assists. Down the stretch, he tried to make something happen every time he got the ball. He was one of the few bright spots for the Rapids, especially after they were eliminated from the playoffs.
What Went Right:
In short, Badji, the Stefan Aigner signing, and Kortne Ford’s development. The Rapids made some moves in the off-season to become more attack minded. Club legend Conor Casey was brought on as an Assistant Coach to essentially become the offensive coordinator. That combined with Badji’s growth produced a nine goal season in which he was the most effective striker for the Rapids. The 25-year-old wasn’t able to meet his goal of 10 goals in 2017 unfortunately. He will be a big part of the club next season.
While it’s still early, the early returned on TAM winger Stefan Aigner are good. He’s been a dynamic play maker both centrally and from a wide position. He’s set up himself and others with scoring chances. It took awhile for the club to get him in the summer, but it looks like he could be the real deal.
Center back Kortne Ford had an uplifting rookie season. He’s been a feel good story for the club and the league. Ford made some mistakes this year, but developed tremendously playing next to Tim Howard and Axel Sjoberg. He should be a Rookie of the Year candidate and could be one of the best young central defenders in MLS.
Lastly, Steve Cooke did yeoman’s work as the Interim Head Coach this year. He walked the walk and talked the talk. Cooke had some new ideas for the attack and helped the Rapids play spoiler. With his player selection, he gave the front office plenty of game film to evaluate the current roster. He’ll be back as an Assistant Coach in 2018.
What Went Wrong:
Basically, everything else. Once the Sam Cronin trade happened, the bite in the midfield was gone. Along with several moves in the off-season, the club was moving towards a more offensive system. In doing so, they sacrificed their current defense for the future offense. In many ways, this seemed like a good idea. 2016 gave the league a bunch of film on how they played. They couldn’t just do the same thing and expect the same result. They went to zig when everyone expected them to zag. It just forced them to weaken their strength without immediately improving their biggest weakness. The weren’t themselves.
That move, combined with injuries undid their season. Sjoberg had a hamstring issue. Boateng had a spine injury just weeks after Cronin got traded. Shkelzen Gashi was not himself this year. Mohammed Saeid was a nice pick up, but took awhile to produce. Joshua Gatt, Dillon Serna, and Luis Gil were forced into more significant roles and struggled at times. Kevin Doyle ultimately had to retire before the end of the year because of head injury concerns.
The Rapids had a 13 games over a two month stretch from May 5th to July 4th, eight of those were home league games. They won five of those eleven league games (one of those was an Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup game). They hoped to be reinvigorated after the break for the CONCACAF Gold Cup, but it didn’t work. The offense struggled and they didn’t have a consistent goal threat. The defense was such a rotating cast, that no group could build any chemistry.
The strength upon which they have success just wasn’t there. With the team needing a shake up, they sacked Head Coach Pablo Mastroeni. The new coach bump didn’t wake the team up in time and they were eliminated from the playoffs. As stated earlier, they did have a nice end to the season.
I still don’t think the 2016 season was a fluke. Recall that Captain Sam Cronin and veteran defender Marc Burch were traded early on in the season. Once that happened, Bismark Boateng had to be the man in central midfield. Injuries and a coaching change hampered his season. That combined with a bunch of other injuries undid them.
The 2016 version of the Rapids is still a team that could have made the playoffs over a 2-3 year span and been a threat in November. Would they have been an MLS Cup contender or favorite? No. But they’d be that workmanlike defensive team that no cup favorite would want to play, especially at altitude in the winter.
What They Need To Do To Contend In 2018:
Everything starts with their rebuild this off-season. They’ll be looking to hire a new head coach in the coming weeks. Sporting Director and Interim General Manager Padraig Smith says they could be making as many as eleven roster changes over the winter. They’ve got an open Designated Player spot and some freed up TAM.
They need to hire a head coach who can take the league by storm, either someone who knows the league and can succeed in it or a foreign coach (ala Tata Martino) who can bring in a style of play that the league has to adjust to. That coach has to fit in with the project and vision the club has going forward.
After that, they need to nail a DP and TAM signing. I think they should go after a central play maker and a box-to-box midfielder. Badji up top, with a healthy Gashi and Aigner on the wings, and a quality No. 10 will bring ‘The Rapids Way’ into a new era. After that, sign an economical and reliable left back, and the defense is set. Fill in the gaps in the depth chart with a blue-chip Homegrown or draft pick.
If all of that happens, the Colorado Rapids can absolutely make the playoffs in 2018.