Editorial (January 31, 2018) – The Colorado Rapids have undergone a total makeover this off-season. As discussed this week on the pilot episode of Holding The High Line, their area of most significant change is the Colorado Rapids center backs.
Colorado Rapids Center Backs Conundrum: Continuity, Competition, and Departures
As it stands right now, the Colorado Rapids have seven players who have played center back in the past for the club or have come in as an off-season center back signing. First off, there are the incumbent starters in Axel Sjoberg and Kortne Ford. Sjoberg was a Defender of the Year candidate in 2016. He re-signed prior to Anthony Hudson being appointed Head Coach. Ford is an impressive Homegrown player who was in discussion for Rookie of the Year last season.
Also returning the Rapids are utility-man Jared Watts and Eric Miller. Watts has played all over the field in his time with Colorado. He’s mostly been a second center back and defensive midfielder and at times was even quoted as being a d-mid who’s job it was to be a third center back. Miller’s floated between center and outside back the last few years. But with Hudson moving to a three man center back line in a 3-5-2, he’s a candidate for being a mobile center back.
Then there are the incoming international players. Tommy Smith has come in from Ipswitch Town F.C. and Danny Wilson was signed on Monday from Glasgow Rangers F.C. Both are 6’2″ and in their prime at the ages of 27 and 26-years-old, respectively. Both have a wide variety of experience on the British continent at top levels.
The Rapids also have Mike da Fonte, who was mostly a left back last season but has played at center back for both the club and in the USL with Sacramento Republic FC.
As Hudson and Technical Director Padraig Smith have said, getting the pre-season right will be critical for the Rapids success in 2018. This will be especially true for the back line. Defense has been the hallmark of the club for years, but now there is some uncertainty. Center back is the position with most changes from last year to this year.
The Rapids will also be moving from a four to a five man back line. Not only are there a bunch of new faces, but they’ll be playing in a formation they have little experience in. Even with a new formation, the midfielders will have some familiarity outside of Jack Price. There’s a very real possibility that the back line could have three new center backs who’ve never played together and never played in a 3-5-2 before.
This group is certainly talented. They’ll have an experienced and vocal goalkeeper behind them in Tim Howard. It can be done. But it will take a lot of work in a short amount of time.
Competition and Players on the Move:
For the first time in years, the Rapids could have a healthy center back competition in camp. Tommy Smith knows Hudson from their time with the New Zealand National Team. He’s a veteran leader and could be favored by Hudson. Wilson probably didn’t sign with the club to sit on the bench.
That leaves one regularly open spot in the back three. Sjoberg and Ford are both MLS starting caliber center backs. The Swede just signed a new contract last year but it’s been rumored the Rapids have been shopping him. Ford has a lot of potential and Colorado will want to have him keep growing.
The future for Watts and Miller is a bit up in the air as well. Both can play elsewhere on the field and could be more valuable as first players off the bench in other roles.
I think the Rapids find a way to move Sjoberg, as hard as that may be sentimentally. He has value on the open market in MLS and Scandinavia, in his prime and 6’7″. They could get a decent transfer fee to then use in the summer transfer window to fill whatever holes appear by then.
After that, the Colorado Rapids center backs will have an open competition. I predict it will end in a rotating cast of Smith, Wilson, Ford, and Miller depending on form and tactical plans for each match. Watts will serve as a back up to the midfielders and Da Fonte will probably be relegated to outside the 18.