Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Clock's ticking

Barring a miracle in the next 25 minutes Peru is going to eliminate New Zealand and Anthony Hudson will be able to take the Rapids job.  Given that we've heard no other rumors for a couple of weeks all signs point to Hudson being the man.  Now the clock starts ticking,  The Rapids needs to get the deal done, announce him this week, have a press availability early next week, and have him get right into it as soon as the holiday is over.  Any delay at this point in announcing Hudson (or whomever) is inexcusable.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Lopez Out As FO Shakeups Continue

The Denver Post reports that Claudio Lopez will not return to the Front Office next year.  Smith told the Post that Lopez's contract was up and it was decided to not offer him a new one.  This isn't a huge shock.  Over the last couple of years Lopez has either been blamed for poor signings or for not convincing the Front Office to make good signings.  Its never been clear, for obvious reasons, what players Lopez was actively involved in recruiting, successfully or not, but he was brought in for his South American knowledge and connections.  Since he joined in 2015 the Rapids haven't had a successful notable signing from South America.

That, combined with the general (much needed) shake-up the whole organization is going through makes it an understandable choice to part ways.  Lopez was an amazing player, great to the fans, and by all reports is a good person, its just time for a change.

Also in that article Smith talks about the new structure of the FO and his plans to add an assistant GM, a director of player personnel, and a head of sport science.  These all sounds like good steps though I'd like to see the goal for these signings (especially the new director of player personnel) be more aggressive than the start of preseason.  He also says that the team is in the final stages of the new coach but would not name any names.  Reading between the lines though it screams to me that the target is Hudson but nothing will happen until after the Peru-New Zealand playoff series.

On the player front Smith talked about two positions he wants to fill quickly, left wingback and attacking mid.  The first would be a much needed replacement for Williams, the second would be something this team desperately needs.  I'm not sure how he's going to fit on the field unless the play is to go back to a 4-5-1/4-2-3-1 but maybe sticking with a 4-4-2 with a more traditional diamond midfield of Gashi and Aigner on the wings, Boateng at the back, and this new signing up front.  Smith also mentioned Tim Hoard by name as the building black of the team, so its even more clear that Howard still has more in the tank.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Expansion Draft Coming, Maybe?

Next year LAFC becomes team #23 in MLS.  From all expectations there will be an expansion draft sometime in December for them, but oddly there's been no announcement of the timing or rules for that draft.  Maybe MLS is going to do something different this time?

For now I'm going to assume its coming and I'm going to assume its going to use essentially the same rules as last year's draft for Atlanta and Minnesota used.  With those assumptions, here's who I'd protect on the Rapids.  A quick recap of the rules:

  • Teams protect 11 players
  • All homegrown and Generation Adidas players are automatically protected on top of the 11
  • All players with a no-trade clause must be protected
  • DP's are not automatically protected
  • At least 3 internationals must be protected
Auto-protected homegrown players: Calvert, Ford, Perez, Serna
Auto-protected Generation Adidas players: None (I'm assuming Hairston and Miller have both graduated from the program)

* = Protected in 2016 expansion draft

International minimum:
Aigner - Obvious choice, I think he'll be a key part of the squad next year
Badji* - His somewhat surprising run to the Golden Boot means he's now a key part of the team
Gashi* - Based on Smith's radio interview it sounds like he's learned what he needs to do to contribute

Azira* - Struggled in 2017 without a consistent partner in midfield but still the best dmid we have
Boateng - His broken back made this season a wash but I expect Smith sees him a a key building block going forward
Hairston* - Has things to work on but brings a sense of urgency and attitude the rest of the team lacks
Howard* - Even without the no-trade clause I'm sure he has he would be an obvious choice.  Too good to let walk away for nothing
MacMath* - Too valuable to let get away, and his time is coming
Saied - Not blown away buy him but better quality than most
Sjoberg* - The big Swede is a good foundation for this rebuilding team

That's 10 obvious choices.  The 11th is really dependent on what the FO thinks LAFC is looking for and what player has the most value going forward.  If Gatt or Williams has trade value, protect them.  if Castillo has a future here, protect him.  If Gordon can be re-signed for a lower number, he might be worth protecting as he would be an obvious LAFC target.  My recommendation from the outside would be Gordon as I think he's the valuable player most likely to be selected by LAFC.

Usually at the end of a season I do a roster review, separating players into keep, keep unless upgrade possible, cut, etc.  This year though this post pretty much does that.  Quite simply this roster isn't good enough to compete in MLS as built and most of the players on it will need to be replaced in order to win anything it this league.  If they're not listed above assume they're only worth keeping because you can't swap out 13-16 players in one season so some of them will have to stay.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

November 1st, No Manager Yet

For the last 6 weeks or so the Rapids have talked about their goal of having a manager in place by November 1st.  Well the 1st has come and gone and no manager and only one real rumor (we'll get to that in a moment).

Now I don't think missing this date is a big deal yet.  There's really not a ton a manager could do for the next couple of weeks.  Obviously every minute of time the manager can spend in the job is a good thing, but until after MLS Cup all the new guy can do is evaluate the current roster, tell Smith what type of players to look for, and generally put dominoes in place for when the season ends and moves can be made.    All of that is obviously important, if this new "Rapids Way" is as coordinated as Smith is portraying it he can do a lot of that initial work himself while he negotiates with the targeted candidate.

That only gets us so far though.  MLS Cup is scheduled for Dec. 9th.  With Thanksgiving week generally being useless for getting work done in any office anywhere (not just soccer) the new manager needs to be in place in the next two weeks, give or take.  Which brings us to the one solid rumor we've seen about the position, New Zealand Nats coach Anthony Hudson.  Coincidentally, the Peru-New Zealand playoff for the final World Cup spot is on November 11th (in NZ) and Nov 15th (in Peru).  Just about the time the Rapids really need to have a manager...

I've dug around a little bit looking at Anthony Hudson.  What I've found hasn't made me jump off a cliff, but I'm also not floored by him as a candidate either.  Hudson was born in Seattle (fellow Seattleite!) but grew up in England as he's the son of Chelsea great Alan Hudson.  He was in West Ham's youth system to start but after bouncing around England and the Netherlands for a couple of years he got his only senior appearances (all 10 of them) as a midfielder with the Wilmington Hammerheads between 2006 and 2008.  This is hardly a knock against him though as some of the best coaches (Wegner for example) had minimal playing careers.

What is a bit of a concerning knock is his coaching career.  After retiring as a player to go into coaching he immediately took over the PDL Real Maryland Monarchs for 3 seasons.  He then jumped over to England to be a coach for Tottenham's reserve team and then coached non-league side Newport County from April to September when he got bounced after getting one win in the first twelve games of the season.

It was at that point he was tapped to take over Bahrain's U23/Olympic team and then a year later the full national side.  During this year he spent time with Mourinho at Real Madrid and Bielsa at Bilbao.  He coached the U23's to the win at the 2013 U23 Gulf of Nations tournament, the first tournament win in Bahrain's U23's history.  He was rumored to take over Denmark in October of 2013 but eventually took over as New Zealand manager in 2014.  While manager of the All Whites he reportedly turned down the MK Dons job in England and was linked with jobs at Norwich City and Derby County (he denied ever being approached by Derby).

When you add all that up you would see a significant hole in his resume.  For all his experience he's never managed a full professional club side.  The Monarchs were an amateur side, Newport was a semi-pro side and National sides are very different entities than club teams.  One thing I said going into this search was that I didn't want a 4th straight coach learning how to do the job.  This would be a bit different than Pablo/Pareja/Smith in that he has been the "top man" at a number of places dealing with professional players but its still not the same as running a pro club day in and day out for a 34 game season.

The good news is that his players for New Zealand praise him for bringing a new level of professionalism and advances to the team.  He also holds a UEFA Pro coaching license which is no easy thing to get.  He seems passionate and dedicated not only to his teams but also to improving himself in whatever way possible.  I think if he really is the leading candidate, as I'm hearing from secondary sources, its his focus on the system and process that won over Smith and co. even if his experience doesn't quite map to the hope the fans had.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Player Of The Year

Usually to pick my player of the year I go back through my game recaps to total up Man of the Match awards, look at the stats, think about the season to consider if there were any lynch pins that don't show up in the numbers, etc.  This year though it was a no-brainer.  The player of the year was clearly Dominique Badji.

Badji had 9 goals and 6 assists this year, the team leader in both categories.  He came up a few inches short of hitting double-digit goals in Seattle and it also would have given him 16 combined goals and assists which means he would have contributed directly to 50% of the goals the team scored this season.  Doyle was second in all those categories with 5 goals and 4 assists.  He was also second in games played and started, playing in all but one game and starting all but 5, and fifth in total minutes.  Miller, Hairston, Azira, and Howard are the other players near him in those categories.

Badji took a big step forward  this year, going from the frustrating forward who could score the hard goals and miss the easy ones of past years to a dangerous striker on the break.  Ok, his penalty taking apparently needs work but I feel much more confident when I see Badji get a look at the goal after this season.

Dominque got a new contract near the end of the season and we can expect him to be part of the plan going forward.  Personally I'd like to see him still as the 3rd striker that's used as a sub, change of pace, or to fill in when one of the starting two is unavailable but we'll be well off if he's our second striker next year.  He shouldn't be called on to carry the team like he did (as much as he could) this season.