Editorial (February 21, 2017) – For the first time since the nickname ‘Rapkids’ was a thing, the Colorado Rapids are primed for a full youth revolution in 2017. They’ve got a bunch of draft picks and young players down the depth chart. They need to develop several of them. And they’ve got a USL affiliate they might actually use effective now. Let’s break it all down.
Colorado Rapids Primed For Youth Revolution In 2017
Bench Cupboards Are Full
The Rapids have signed four new players this off-season and had four draft picks. Of those, only Alan Gordon is over 23-years-old. The Rapids added much needed depth at holding midfielder in signing Sam Hamilton. And they got a back up for Marc Burch in Liam Callahan. They also got some long shot forward options in the later round.
On the Homegrown front, they’ve got an excellent center back prospect in Kortne Ford. They also added some midfield depth in Ricardo Perez. These are two players who have been with the club at the academy level for years. Head Coach Pablo Mastroeni and the front office are familiar with them and should have a plan to continue their development.
Mastroeni spoke highly of the group: “They’ve been fantastic. Each year, each group of young players becomes more and more sophisticated on and off the field. They have a better awareness of tactics than I had at my age, a better awareness of how to conduct themselves at my age.”
What’s great about this group of six new players is the fact that the Rapids added depth at position of existing strength. They didn’t lose any critical pieces this off-season. Other than the offense, they didn’t have any glaring weaknesses. As I’ve written about previously, the Rapids can address their goal scoring weaknesses internally.
This off-season was about adding depth for the future. They’ve got a rising center back star in Axel Sjoberg and several players who can partner with him. Ford added depth at that position. Because of the existing talent at the position, there’s no pressure for him to start playing immediately. They have veteran mentorship to help him grow in a competitive environment.
“They’re all doing a great job, keeping their ears open and working hard every day. If they’re doing that, then our whole team’s stronger. All the players and staff are pleased with their effort and ability,” said Captain Sam Cronin.
The same can be said for several other positions. Sam Hamilton is primarily a holding midfielder. He can basically spend the rest of the preseason and early MLS season shadowing Sam Cronin. Callahan can learn a lot from yeoman Burch as his understudy. Likewise, there’s plenty of attacking midfielders and forwards in the squad to be examples to Perez, Jaime Siaj, and Peguy Ngatcha.
Based on how well the team did last year, there’s a good chance none of them will be in the Starting XI at the start of the season. But the Rapids probably don’t need any of them to start. They might need a few of them in 2-3 years though. They’ve got time to let them develop. They have the coaching staff and veterans to lead by example to show them the ropes.
Finally Using USL Affiliation
The Rapids extended their affiliation with the Charlotte Independence for the 2017 season. Colorado hasn’t used this partnership as well as other MLS teams have in recent years though. Dennis Castillo was the only noteworthy loan from last season.
With so many new and young additions this year, they’re bound to have a few players down there, maybe even starting for the Independence for long stretches. There’s no word or time table yet on when the club could make decisions on the four draft picks. Castillo wasn’t signed with the club until a month into last season though.
Ford probably has the highest upside of the new guys. That said, he probably has the most competition for playing time at his position. He’s definitely a starter at the USL level. He and the coaching staff will probably discuss what’s best for him: training with higher level pros or game minutes?
Everybody else is probably a strong candidate for getting loaned down to Charlotte if they’re not able to make the 18-man-roster with some regularity. Of the draft picks. Callahan probably has the best chance to stay with the team simply because he could be the first replacement for Burch should he get injured. Castillo could also get loaned down to Charlotte.
Predicting Where They’ll End Up
I say Kortne Ford gets loaned down to Charlotte and kills it all season long. His college teammate Sam Hamilton joins him and gets regular minutes as well. Callahan will probably stay in Colorado and learn from Burch, maybe come off the bench here and there.
It’s not clear what the coaching staff thinks Perez’s role is. Can he be a winger? Is he purely a No. 10? That will probably factor into where he ends up. If any of the other draft picks get signed, I’d certainly expect them to spend most of the year in the USL.
This is MLS, anything is possible. As Cronin put it, “realistically, you could see every single one making the team.”