Saturday, December 10, 2016

2016 Roster Review and Expansion Draft Prediction

Its been a little late coming but I'm finally getting around to my annual roster review.  Afterwards I'll also project who I think the Rapids will protect in next week's expansion draft.

This is my breakdown of what I think Colorado should do with each player, given the realities of MLS's player acquisition rules and current contract statuses (as best we know them).  I'll like the player's position and their 2016 base salary as well.

M Micheal Azira, 63K - Might be the best deal in the league at 63K.  Should have played more down the stretch
GK John Berner, 63K - He'll be needed to start thee season until Howard is healthy
F Caleb Calvert, 75K - Young and likes some of what we saw this year.  Also apparently retains his homegrown designation
M Sam Cronin, 225K - Surprisingly maybe the key to the team this year.  We saw how much it hurt not to have him in the final game
F Shkelzen Gashi, 1.575M  - Took a while to get settled but I think there's more to come
D Joe Greenspan, 51.5K - Young, looked good at times, no brainer to keep him
M Marlon Hairston, 90K - Probably took the biggest step forward of any player this year.  Can't wait to see him contribute more regularly next year
GK Tim Howard, 2.1M - Duh
M Dillon Serna, 66K - Equally duh.  Hopefully he bounces back from the ACL well
D Axel Sjoberg, 66K - Keep him and give him a raise
D Jared Watts, 68K - Another one that took a surprising step forward this year.  Still want him as a backup not as a starter though

Keep for now, be looking for an upgrade:
F Dominque Badji, 53.5K - Barring a huge step forward in his shooting ability he's nothing more than a later game speedy super sub.  Nice to have but if there's an option to improve by moving him we should.
D Marc Burch, 120K - I could see moving him into the keep list but that price tag is a bit high
D Bobby Burling, 110K - If Pablo sees him as a starter next to Axel then we can keep him.  If he's going to back up Watts though we can probably do better or get cheaper (or both)
F Kevin Doyle, 1.075M - I love his passion and his leadership, but we're just not getting enough out of him.  If we could bring him back at about a third of the price I'd be good keeping him.  He's going to be hard to replace though, unless we have an option on his contract.
D Eric Miller, 66.4K - Young, has potential, but looked really bad late in the season
D Mekeli Williams, 85K - Started hot but fell off as the season went on.  We can probably do better at outside back

M Jermaine Jones, 600K - Reports are he's already talking to LA.  Trade his rights there and move on
GK Zac MacMath, 140K - He deserves a chance to start some where and that's to much to pay for a backup GK
M Marco Pappa, 110K - Not a fit for Pablo's system
M Dillon Powers, 270K - He needs a fresh start somewhere else.  Maybe Blackburn?
M Juan Ramirez, 85K - He's done in Colorado, get what we can for him

F Conor Doyle, 66K - Did nothing this year
M Sebastien Le Toux, 300K - Way too much for way too little
D Sean St. Ledger, 192K - Literally did nothing this year

Unknown/Too Little Info:
D Dennis Castillo, 51.5K - Not enough playing time to really know
M Zach Pfeffer, 101K - Pfeffer retained his homegrown player designation so he's probably worth keeping but I haven't seen him all season so who knows

That leaves us 8 to replace and 6 to upgrade.  That's a bit much so we can expect that we won't upgrade every one of those players and somebody like Conor Doyle or Dillon Powers may hang around.

The first thing to be concerned about though is Tuesday's Expansion Draft.  Here are the basic rules:

  • Atlanta United and Minnesota United will each get 5 picks
  • No team can lose more than 1 player
  • Teams can protect 11 players, 3 of which must be internationals
  • Homegrown and Generation Adidas players are automatically protected on top of the 11
  • Anyone with a no-trade clause must be included in the 11 protected players
Given that, here's what I predict/suggest for our protected list:

Homegrown players:
  • Caleb Calvert
  • Zack Pfeffer
  • Dillon Serna
(Yes, Calvert and Pfeffer kept their homegrown designations after being acquired by Colorado, per MLS)

Possible Generation Adidas players:
  • Marlon Hairston
  • Eric Miller
The time when a player "graduates" from Generation Adidas is not made public so its possible neither, one, or both of these players will be auto-protected.  I've heard both things about Hairston so far.  We shouldn't use a slot on Miller if he's not protected but we should on Hairston.

  • Micheal Azira - Would be a steal of either team
  • Shkelzen Gashi - Probably has a no-trade clause but worth protecting anyway
  • Axel Sjoberg - Easy choice, he's a cornerstone of our defense
Remaining List:
  • Marc Burch - Worth keeping rather than letting go for nothing
  • Bobby Burling - See Marc Burch
  • Sam Cronin - Fairly obvious, a key piece of our midfield
  • Kevin Doyle - If we have any thought of bringing him back
  • Tim Howard - Probable no-trade clause plus we put way too much into him to take any risks
  • Dillon Powers - Worth too much to let him go for free
  • Jared Watts - Surprisingly I think he needs to be protected
  • Marlon Hairston - If not auto-protected, otherwise the coach's opinion of the player with the most potential out of Badji, Castillo, Greenspan, and Williams
The goal here is that leaving MacMath and Pappa unprotected entices Atlanta or Minnesota to pick one of them protecting the rest of the roster.  So my final combined list of protected players would be:

Azira, Burch, Burling, Calvert, Cronin, K.Doyle, Hairston, Howard, Gashi, Pfeffer, Powers, Serna, Sjoberg, Watts, and possibly one young player with potential.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Prediction Scoring

Let's look back to my 2016 predictions and see how I did (hint, not well):
  • Rapids finish with points in the low-40s and in 8th place in the West
  • The Rapids get less than 12 points in their first 9 games, leading to Pablo's removal as head coach sometime in that stretch.
  • Spencer takes over and rides the "new coach" bounce to a win over FSL in game 10
  • Colorado pulls an upset in the third Rocky Mountain Cup game in Sandy and retain the Cup for their first back-to-back RMC wins since '05-'06.
  • Pablo stays with the organization in another capacity (Academy?)
  • We win a USOC game, maybe two, but bow out before the competition gets really interesting
  • Howard shows up in July and immediately becomes the best keeper in MLS but its not what the team needs to make a playoff push
  • Gashi scores 11 to become team MVP and Golden Boot winner
  • Ramirez never returns to Colorado
  • The Rapids make one more notable signing (name player, not necessarily DP) this season
  • Spencer retains coaching position into 2017 even though results after taking over for Pablo don't really deserve it
  • Bravo keeps his job into next year
Yeah, I started out 0-5 before I nailed the USOC prediction.  We did win one game before getting eliminated.

Howard was arguably the best keeper in MLS but we didn't need him for a playoff push.  I'm taking half a point.

Gashi was the Golden Boot winner and 9 is close enough to 11 to count it as accurate.  He however was not team MVP so half a point.

Ramirez never returned, I got that right.

This prediction was before the Jones signing so I got that one.

Spencer never took over, miss.

Bravo still has his job, count it.

5 of 12 total overall.  Ugh.  At least almost all of them I missed because the Rapids were much better than I predicted.  That's the way I like to be wrong.

Monday, December 5, 2016

2016 Player of the Year

my 2016 Player of the Year is the Rapids Goalkeeper.  Yes, I'm splitting the award between Zac MacMath and Tim Howard.  Both played the same number of games (19 league games, including playoffs), they both led a league leading defense, and they both dealt with the tough situation of being the #1 at different times of the year.  It was the most consistent position on the team and that's largely because they are two of the more talented players on the team and handled their job with professionalism.  This could have easily "gone wrong" this year with MacMath pouting or Howard thinking he could take it easy coming back to MLS but neither one allowed the situation to get to them.

They were also named team MVP at the Rapids awards banquet, splitting the award.  I however am not copying the Rapids on this pick.  If you go back to the Voice of C38 podcast right before the playoffs I was interviewed at the tailgate and suggested that the Rapids GK should be team MVP. So the Rapids stole the idea from me, not the other way around. :D

Thursday, December 1, 2016

The First Big Offseason Decision - Pablo

As of now Pablo Mastroeni is essentially out of contract as Rapids Head Coach (I'm sure his contract probably runs to the end of the month or something but the games are over).  The first decision the Rapids Front Office has to make this offseason is obvious' Will Pablo return?

To review his head coaching tenure so far:

2014: 8W-8T-18L - 0.94 pts/game - 2nd worst in team history - Eliminated in USOC Round of 16 at home by Atlanta

2015: 9W-10T-15L - 1.09 pts/game - 4th worst in team history - Eliminated in USOC Round of 16 in Houston

2016: 15W-13T-6L - 1.71 pts/game - Best in team history - Eliminated in USOC Round of 16 in Dallas - Eliminated in Western Conference Final by Seattle

Overall: 32W-31T-39L - 1.24 pts/game - 5th best career record in team history

So it really breaks down into the Tale of Two Pablos.  2014-15 Pablo was arguably the worst coach in team history as that was the worst two year run in the 20 seasons of Rapids soccer.  2016 was arguably the 2nd best coach in team history (Smith got a MLS Cup which beats Pablo's best regular season).  So which one is the real Pablo?  Did he learn from the last two years and improve as a coach or was this year due to the added investment in players more than better coaching?

I don't know.  I see some improvement.  He's stabilized his starting XI as much as injuries and absences allow.  He's clearly got the locker room as these guys are playing for him and don't quit.  We're seeing some young players like Hairston and even Watts improve under his coaching.  Those are all positive signs.  On the flip side though I feel like his in-game coaching hasn't changed.  He's still late with subs and rarely uses all of them.  He's regularly out maneuvered by the opposing coach, especially in halftime adjustments.  I know his sideline antics bother some people (not me personally).

So, what should the Rapids do?  Here's my suggestion. Pablo should get a new contract either for 1 year or with a team option after the first year.

His expectation for 2017 should be to easily make the playoffs (not clinch one of the final 2 spots in the final 2 weeks). He doesn't have to repeat this year and be in the Shield fight but he can't regress to "typical" Rapids levels. A deep USOC or CCL run would also be helpful.  If he does that then he should go into 2018 knowing that, barring a catastrophic run like the end of 2014, he's not on the hot seat and 2019 is basically assured.

If he fails to make the playoffs in 2017 then the team should use their option and/or not renew his contract and find a new coach. If he makes the playoffs but in typical Rapids fashion "one of the last two spots on the final day or two of the regular season" then we'll have to analyze the season, look at the USOC and CCL play, and have another discussion.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Rapids End Season With First Home Loss Of The Year

Well, that's it.  Seattle outplayed us in both legs and they move on to MLS Cup after a 1-0 win yesterday.  There really isn't much to say about this one.  Colorado set a regular and post-season MLS record by having 16 shots with none of them on target.  Much like we've seen all season, in a game they came in trailing by a goal they didn't get one shot on target.  That's the story of the game.  13 shots on target and 2 goals in 4 playoff games won't get you to MLS Cup.  The lack of a team offensive strategy finally caught up to us.

General Impressions:
  • To dissect the goal it was a team failure from Watts and Sjoberg.  Watts headed a horrible ball right into the middle of the field 30 yards out.  With Watts forward playing the ball Sjoberg didn't pick up Morris running into the empty space.  MacMath didn't make a great play on the shot (honestly, Howard probably saves it) and that was that.  But the goal wasn't the reason we lost.
  • Hairston should have started over Le Toux in both games.  Sebastian didn't contribute anything beyond running up and down the field.
  • Gashi and Doyle each got a goal in the playoffs but one was a lucky deflection and one was a shot you could hit again 10 times and you'd miss all 10 times.  We needed more out of our big money players.
  • The officiating wasn't the reason we lost but it was incredibly inconsistent over the two legs.  Part of it is because there were different refereeing teams so what was seen as a PK in Leg 1 was much lighter than what wasn't a PK in Leg 2 but even in the games the refs were inconsistent.
  • In the end the team that played the best in the Western playoffs is the team going to MLS Cup.  You can't really complain about that.
  • I'll be backing Toronto now.  This is not an anti-Sounders move as some of my friends/family may believe (you know who you are) but its a move to back ex-Rapids Clint Irwin and Drew Moor.  I'd love to see Moor get another ring.  If the final ends up being Seattle-Montreal I'm not sure who I'll support.
Man of the Match: This was going to be Jermaine Jones for the effort he put in.  But an hour after the match he tweeted (and then deleted) the following:
Now it's time to enjoy family and in a couple weeks getting back to work!  We will see where!!  FREE AGENT BABY
Which is a tactless tweet and an insult to the fans who supported him all season.  We knew that JJ was essentially a mercenary for hire this year but show a little class.  If he had tweeted Wednesday that he's going to be getting back to work and looking for opportunities nobody would have complained but "FREE AGENT BABY" an hour after playoff elimination?  Lets just say he didn't win over many fans to support re-signing him yesterday.

Now that the season is done we'll be getting into Player of the Year awards, roster analysis, expansion draft discussion, and the Pablo question in the next few days.  Oh, and of course, the Pac-12 Championship on Friday night.  Bow Down to Washington!