Breaking down the Colorado Rapids right wing back competition

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KANSAS CITY, KS - MAY 05: Colorado Rapids midfielder Dillon Serna (17) takes the ball downfield in the second half of an MLS match between the Colorado Rapids and Sporting Kansas City on May 5, 2018 at Children's Mercy Park in Kansas City, KS. Sporting KC won 1-0. (Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

COMMERCE CITY, Colo. (May 22, 2018) – The Colorado Rapids right wing back position has been precarious at times in 2018. Four different players have now played the position with varying levels of success. Let’s dissect the position, the players who’ve tried it out, and what Head Coach Anthony Hudson is looking for in a right wing back.

Breaking down the Colorado Rapids right wing back competition

As Hudson alluded to last year, Marlon Hairston at right wing back looked like one of his pet projects for 2018. One could call him the heir apparent going into this season as one of the hottest debate topics amongst the Rapids fans and pundits was ‘is Hairston a wide midfielder, fullback, or winger?’ The wing back role in a 3-5-2 seemed to marry Hairston’s skill set perfectly.

Hairston got hurt in late March and had to have cartilage surgery. He hasn’t played since and is still just now finishing up his rehab.

Recent competition:

Kip Colvey and Dillon Serna both saw time in at the position in the aftermath of Hairston’s injury. Colvey has been relatively pedestrian in his three starts at the position. He hasn’t done much offensively and has had been suspect defensively next to Deklan Wynne.

He was even subbed out in the first half in a game against Toronto FC earlier this year. That’s bad and it looked bad. Given Colvey’s time with San Jose Earthquakes (just four appearances in two years), perhaps he needs some more time to figure things out at the MLS level.

Serna has six substitute appearances this season, but no starts. He’s been the most offensively productive of the four players to play at right wing back, with seven shots in just 159 minutes this season.

He’s nearly scored against Orlando City SC and Toronto FC last month but has had some bad individual moments defensively. He surrendered the penalty kick that ultimately gave Orlando a 2-1 win. With his offensive skills and speed, his most useful role long term with this team might be as an attacking super sub.

That said, many fans arguing he deserves a chance to start have a case. Hudson’s made it clear he didn’t see enough from either of these two at right wing back.

“I’ve spoken to both of them about that, whether it be tactical discipline with the ball, without the ball. Fitness levels. Some players get cramps in the late stages of the game,” the manager told Last Word on Soccer. “Right now, I’m wanting someone to take that position,” he added.

He hesitated to provide more detail but did say he’s spoken with both players in private and they are aware of what he wants them to work on.

That said, based on observation and Hudson’s words, we can pick out a few things. Kovley’s clearly still learning how to play at the MLS level and needs some time given he didn’t get to play much prior to this season. Serna’s played all over the field since turning pro. He’s more battle-tested in MLS but is still learning the 3-5-2 and the defensive aspects to his role on the fly.

The results show that both are still defensive liabilities at times. Given all the other problems this team has right now, Hudson wants someone more defensively sound, even if it means making sacrifices elsewhere.

The Nana Boateng experiment

Bismark “Nana” Adjei-Boateng first played at right wing back on April 21 at Real Salt Lake. He wasn’t bad for the first 20 minutes, but then Tim Howard got a red card and Colorado had to scrap much of the game plan to try and fight for a scoreless draw.

“I played right back when I was young, so it’s been awhile,” Boateng said after training this week. “I’m physical and I like to run forward and attack and defend. So it’s good for me.”

Boateng has started three of the next four games and played the full 90 minutes on the wing on Saturday. Like Colvey, he’s had some trouble getting forward, but he’s had more of a relationship with the center midfielders than either Serna or Colvey. That’s allowed him to pair up with (usually) Enzo Martinez and get into the attack down the flank.

“I want to have really attacking players on those wing back positions. Our wing backs are really important as part of the attack. Nana is a No. 8, he’s an attacking midfielder. He’s powerful, he’s strong, he’s learning the role. But he’s someone who’s a midfielder. Eventually, we want to get to a position where [wing backs] are attacking positions,” said Hudson.

Boateng played right back briefly as a youth player but is very much learning the position on the fly. “I need to get assists. I need to get upfield and put in crosses and get into the box. I have to improve on my defensive work.”

This experiment is still in the oven, but it seems to really be a bandage on the wound that is Hairston missing out. At first, he looked like a center mid masquerading as a wing back, but it’s been better the last few games.

Last Words:

The last two months have been a competition for the backup spot to Marlon Hairston at this role in my opinion. Hudson’s given three players a chance to step up and take it and no one has (pending Boateng succeeding in a significant position change). Hairston’s the heir-apparent to this role. As soon as he’s healthy, he’ll be the starter again.

This competition has been a healthy experiment in terms of seeing what else he as at right wing back. A wing back in a 3-5-2 is one of the most tiring positions in soccer. Hudson will need depth and substitutes even with Hairston fully fit.

Colvey, Boateng, and Serna know what they need to improve on. If one of the can do what has been asked of them, they’ll be a valuable (albeit backup) cog in Hudson’s machine.

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