Monday, November 25, 2019

We Want Moor! Moor! Moor!

So we have two actual confirmed moves today and one all but confirmed one.  The two actual moves were the expected re-signings of Mezquida and Rawls, announced today.  Today was the first day teams could sign players who were out of contract and we got these two done right off the bat.  It was also the waiver draft today, which the Rapids passed on.  Tommy Smith was made available for the waiver draft however and that, combined with him not being immediately re-signed liked the other two, is probably a good indicator of Smith either not returning or the Rapids being comfortable letting him play the field to see what he could get before signing our offer.  Either way, we seem to be comfortable with him walking away at this point.

That might be because of the all but confirmed move that broke today.  Rapids legend and future Gallery of honor member Drew Moor is, by all reports, returning to Colorado.  Moor left the Front Range after the 2015 season, becoming the first "free agent" signing in MLS history a he signed with Toronto.  While there he appeared 78 times for TFC and won a MLS Cup and a Supporters Shield.  Since 2016 he was working with Robin Fraser as well.  Of those 78 appearances 55 of them were in his first two seasons north of the border as he's transitioned to a backup role as he nears the end of his career.

On top of the various reports that he's signed from the Denver Post and other sources, the Rapids social media accounts, after announcing the Mezquida and Rawls signings, posted to stay tuned for MORE news this week.  Yes, with MORE capitalized.  Seems a pretty obvious nod to our former captain.

He is expected to fill the same role here, the primary backup CB who can provide veteran leadership to our young back line.  He is also capable of playing outside back in a pinch so he can fill in anywhere along the back 4.  Along with the other moves made in the last week our defense looks pretty set for 2020.  Plus the team gets back a fan favorite and overall good person in Drew.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Rapids Announce Roster Moves, Talk About Offseason Plans

Today was the deadline to decide on player options and the Rapids announced their list of players picked up and players released.  Kofi Opare, Sam Raben, and Dillon Serna have been released or had their options declined.  Andre Rawls and Nicolas Mezquida are also out of contract but our finalizing new deals with the team and will be returning.  Tommy Smith has his option declined and had reported earlier he was in negotiations with the team, but today's announcement from the team does not mention any ongoing negotiations with him.  Along with those moves the contract options on Lewis, Shinyashiki, Jackson, Nicholson, Rwatubyaye, and Wynne were picked up.  Everyone else was already under a guaranteed contract for 2020.

None of these moves are that surprising.  As a homegrown player I wasn't expecting Sam Raben to be cut after one season but we've seen the Rapids move on from HG's recently like Ricardo Perez.  The only other real surprised to me was that Shinyashiki's contract was structured in a way that he's on an option year in year 2.  Look for the Rapids to lock him up more long-term this offseason.

For the other players waived today, we kind of saw it coming.  Opare wasn't a factor at all last season.  Dillon Serna leaving hurts, as our first successful homegrown signing and our longest serving player on the 2019 roster you never want a guy like that to go, but its clear he needs a change of environment as he doesn't have a role here.  If Tommy Smith doesn't come back I don't think that would surprise anyone, he did look better once Hudson left but he's too expensive to bring back on his current contract to be a likely backup and if he's not willing to take backup money I can understand that.

These moves leave us with 21 rostered players, 23 if Rawls and Mezquida do return.  As mentioned yesterday we now have 4 internationals under contract for 6 slots, though Mezquida would be a 5th.  That gives up probably 7 roster slots to fill in the offseason, with 1 open international slot.

Padraig Smith talked to today about those offseason plans.  It sounds like he's pretty satisfied with our starting defense after yesterday's moves but he's looking for some veteran depth.  One interesting name out there is Drew Moor, who ended up in a backup role in Toronto this year and has now been released and is a free agent.  If they can make the money work he's be a great utility backup defender for the Rapids, obviously being familiar with being here but also having worked with Fraser in Toronto the last few years.

Beyond that Smith talked about looking at a DP attacking midfielder, and mentioned he's spent the last week in Argentina.  He also wants to sign another winger and a high-level midfielder with MLS experience.  We'll also need a third goalkeeper.  So that's 5 of the 7 signings right there.  It sounds like we've got a plan for the offseason, now lets see how they execute it.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Rapids Make Moves On The Back Line

Yesterday's expansion draft resulted in no Colorado players being picked, as expected.  Today the Rapids made moves to add two large pieces of the 2020 puzzle.  First they traded to bring Lalas Abubakar back permanently after his loan ended.  They then made a move to bring in the Union's centerback Auston Trusty. 

The trade for Abubakar was $400K in GAM and an international slot for 2020.  Obviously we know how Lalas fits into the team so there's no surprise there.  The good news is the cost, while some sources (mainly in Columbus) were tossing around numbers like $1M in xAM we got him for a much more reasonable $400K.  Some media were rating Abubakar the third best defender in the league in 2019 but we got him for an above-average MLS defender price.  Great move by the Front Office.

For those wondering about the international slot we currently have five internationals (Mezquida, Price, Rwatubyaye, Shinyashiki, and Wilson) and we know we're negotiating with Smith to be the sixth.  With this trade and the Lewis trade earlier this year we've traded away two of our slots for 2020, leaving us with 6.  So we're fine on that front right now, and we can always trade for more or decide to send Rwatubyaye back to the Springs next year to free up a slot.

The second move of the day was the more surprising one.  Auston Trusty wasn't on anyone's radar as a possible pickup.  He was signed as a homegrown player by the Union in 2016, spending the rest of that year and the following on loan to their USL affiliate where he made 31 appearances.  He then started and played every minute of the 2018 season for the Union.  He started the first 22 games of the 2019 season for the Union before being relegated to the bench and not seeing any more playing time, for unknown reasons.  He hinted that he would talk more about what happened next year but clearly whatever it was meant he was unlikely to factor into next year's plans for Philly.

Trusty is a 21 year old center back  who has been capped for the U19 and the U20 U.S. national teams and has received a full National Team camp invite but has not yet been selected for a game roster.  Obviously with 80+ professional appearances he's more experienced than the average 21 year old and right now it seems like he's likely to be expected to start along-side Abubakar in our back line in 2020.

To get Trusty we traded $200K of TAM in 2020 and $300K in GAM in 2021.  Depending on his performance in 2020 the Union could get an additional $150K of GAM in 2021.  If we sell Trusty before the end of 2021 the Union would get 30% of the remaining transfer fee after the Rapids recoup the $600K (or $750K with performance bonus) they paid to get him.  If he's sold after that Philly would get 25%.  As part of the deal Trusty signed a new contract with the Rapids (he was on an option year in 2020 with Philly).

So combined today we spent $1M in xAM and gave up an international spot for next season in exchange for two young starting quality MLS centerbacks.  That's a nice bit of business for the Front Office.  This leaves the team with a starting back four (Rosenberry - Abubakar - Trusty - Vines) with an average age between 22 and 23, all under multiyear deals  That's a young, long-term back line we can build off of.  With Ford and Rwatubyaye as depth and reports that we're still negotiating with Smith we're pretty set at CB for 2020.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Expansion Draft Protected Lists Released

Today the league announced the protected and unprotected lists for Tuesday's expansion draft.  If you remember back in September when the rules were announced I made my predictions.  I got 10 of the 12 right, though with a caveat.  First though, to the list.

Protected automatically as a homegrown player 25 years old or younger:
Kellyn Acosta*, Sebastian Anderson, Cole Bassett, Kortne Ford, Matt Hundley, Sam Raben, Dillon Serna, Sam Vines

* - I predicted we'd protect Acosta because I forgot he was an homegrown player with Dallas and would automatically be protected

Protected by the team:
Clint Irwin, Kei Kamara, Jonathan Lewis, Nicolas Mezquida, Sam Nicholson, Jack Price, Andre Rawls, Keegan Rosenberry, Diego Rubio, Andre Shinyashiki, Tommy Smith, Deklan Wynne

Unprotected and could be selected in the draft:
Johan Blomberg, Tim Howard, Niki Jackson, Kofi Opare, Abdul Rwatubyaye, Axel Sjoberg, Danny Wilson

The two misses I had were protecting Rawls and Wynne, I thought Jackson and Rwatubyaye would be protected in their place.  I kind of understand Rawls, he's cheap and he saves you from having to find a replacement for a position you're satisfied with.  I'm really surprised at Wynne being protected though.  He doesn't seem to be in our plans going forward and while outside back is a hard position to fill he only cost us $100K in TAM to acquire two years ago, I can't imagine his value has changed significantly in that time, likely its gone down.  Its possible that Fraser sees something he can work with in Wynne though.

Otherwise all the other selections are pretty much self-explanatory.  The Rapids can lose at most 1 player from that group of  7, I predict they'll lose none.  If you're wondering why Blomberg and Howard show up on our unprotected list despite being out of contract and clearly done with MLS its because we keep their rights if we offer Blomberg a contract extension (we won't) or if Howard un-retires in a year (he won't) so in theory Miami or Nashivlle could select one of those two players and get their rights from us.  Neither team will do that though, but the possibility has to be accounted for.

Looking at the rest of the league's lists a number of former Rapids were left exposed, including Drew Moor in Toronto who is out of contract.  I'd be very tempted to try to sign him as a veteran leader for the defense if he's not selected by Gary Smith for Nashville in the draft.  Two other names of note are exposed, Edgar Castillo and Kelyn Rowe.  If you remember the Rapids traded Castillo for Rowe and then immediately traded Rose and $300k of funny money for Rubio.  Rowe was traded to FSL mid-season.  The Rapids made a steal in that deal, something they should get credit for.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Silly Season Starts In About Sixteen Hours

Now that MLS Cup has completed, and congrats to Seattle for their win*, the offseason can really get started.  It will kick off tomorrow at 11am MT as rosters are unfrozen for a little over 2 days before the expansion draft next week (the 19th).  Then things come fast and furious through the end of the month, with options having to be decided on by the 21st, waiver draft and free agency opening on the 25th, the first round of the Re-Entry draft on the 26th, then after we all fill up on turkey the second round of the Re-Entry Draft on Dec. 3rd.  Then things ease up until the Superdraft on a yet to be announced date in January, though player deals can happen at any time between Dec. 3rd and the start of the 2020 season.

So lets look at what the Rapids need to do this offseason.  We've got, reportedly, two-thirds of our salary cap freeing up and all our DP slots open.  Technically this means we could sign 3 DPs but remember, the third DP comes at a cost of $250K of GAM and the loss of the Rapids share of the $250K the other teams with 3 DPs pay.  So about $400K right now.  If they sign a youth DP (23 years old or younger) they don't have to pay the $250K but they do lose their cut of everyone else's.

I'm going to break this down by position and include, as much as I can, the roster status of our current players in the position who are likely to see playing time in 2020.  Not all contract lengths are publicly available though, and I will note where that's the case.

Clint Irwin - Likely under contract
Irwin was given a new contract when he was acquired last year.  I wouldn't be surprised if he got a two year deal and is still under contract, but that's just an educated guess.  Regardless with Howard's retirement there's a hole waiting to be filled for a starting keeper.  Safe bet that's not going to be Rawls who spent the season in the Springs.  Irwin is a serviceable MLS keeper and we shouldn't spend too much effort or time looking for an upgrade, but if an opportunity to make a good signing at a decent price presents itself I have no issue with Irwin continuing to be the backup next season.  There is an unsourced rumor on social media that we're showing interest in LAFC keeper Tyler Miller, who LAFC is not likely to re-sign, but Nashville is also looking at him.  Based on this season he'd be an upgrade to Irwin but I don't know how real this interest is.  Regardless look for us to sign another keeper, likely a backup, to get to three.

Outside backs:
Keegan Rosenberry - Under contract through 2022
Sam Vines - Under contract through 2020
Sebastian Anderson - Under contact through 2023
Deklan Wynne - Option year/out of contract
I included Wynne as its pretty clear that he's done here and his contract allows him to be released with no penalty.  As far as starters are concerned, Rosenberry and Vines have locked down the spots.  We should sign a replacement for Wynne as a solid backup, probably ahead of Anderson in the pecking order, but I don't expect any other movement at this position.

Center backs:
Lalas Abubakar - Loan complete
Tommy Smith - Option year
Kortne Ford - Unknown
Axel Sjoberg - Under contract through 2020
Danny Wilson - Under contract through 2020
Yuck.  There's nothing good in that list.  Since we know Smith is already renegotiating with the Rapids we know his option wasn't picked up.  So we don't have a single MLS quality starting CB under contract for 2020 at the moment.  I don't think we can assume Kort is going to bounce back from his injury at a starter level, though I would love it if he did.  Wilson showed better as a d-mid than a CB and while he's fine as a backup in the back line he should not be starting.  Axel's time has come and gone sadly.

So expect significant moves here, likely starting with signing Abubakar permanently from Columbus and bringing Smith back at a lower number.  On top of that I expect us to sign a starting quality CB with the idea that Smith would be the primary backup, not a starter.  It might be a place where we sign a DP, but that could be a stretch.

Defensive/box-to-box midfielders:
Jack Price - Under contract through 2021
Kellyn Acosta - Under contract through 2021
Cole Bassett - Unknown
Dillon Serna - Option year
Bassett has only finished his second season so I'm pretty sure he's still under contract, but I couldn't find any specific length for his deal.  We're actually fairly well off in this position.  Price was the team MVP and Bassett and Acosta can both play the "non-attacking" midfielder position.  We might add a fourth for depth reasons but I don't expect a major move here.  Sadly I think Serna will be let go after this season, he needs a new environment at this point.

Sam Nicholson - Unknown
Jonathan Lewis - Under contract through 2021
Andre Shinyashiki - Unknown
Nicholson has been in MLS for 2.5 years, which likely means he's on an option year for 2020, but there's no reporting of his contract terms.  Shinyashiki is clearly going to be under contract for his second season as a pro, but I don't know how long his first contract is for beyond that.  Overall this position is strong but thin.  We have 3 starting quality players for 2 spots, so I wouldn't be shocked to see Nicholson moved if the right option came up.  Otherwise I expect some sort of depth signing but probably no starter move.

Attacking midfielders:
Nicholas Mezquida - Out of contract
Mezquida was signed to a two year deal with a third option year by Vancouver before the 2017 season.  Unless the Rapids game him a contract extension when they traded for him he's out of contract and there's not much behind him.  I would expect the team to invest heavily in this position this offseason, probably re-signing Mezquida as well as signing a DP in this area.  We could play an 'empty bucket' with two wingers and Price/Acosta at the bottom of the bucket but I find that unlikely.

Kei Kamara - Option year
Diego Rubio - Under contract through 2022
Our top two strikers are back and we have decent depth behind them in that both Lewis and Shinyashiki are comfortable playing forward.  That said, I wouldn't be surprised to see some significant moves here.  There are rumors that there's interest in Rubio from overseas, if the offer is right I can see the Rapids selling and then bringing in a DP striker.  Its even possible that for the right offer Kamara could be let go and replaced the same way.  As good as Kei was last year he is 35 years old and at some point soon his decline is going to hit.  We wouldn't want to let him go for free and without a solid plan to replace him, but if moving his almost million-dollar salary is the difference between signing a good young striker or not I can see us moving on.

So there you go.  Expect heavy investment at center back and attacking mid, and some noticeable work at striker.  Don't be surprised if Irwin doesn't start the season opener in 2020, but be somewhat shocked if our outside players aren't some combination of Rosenberry, Vines, Nicholson, Lewis, or Shinyashiki.

* - Long time readers will know that Seattle is not my favorite team, despite Seattle being my hometown.  Sadly I lost a cousin this week who was a die-hard Seattle sports fan, across all sports.  He would have loved to see the Sounders win MLS Cup at home today and for him I rooted for Seattle while watching the game.  I know his sister and brother-in-law took his nieces to the game today so I'm glad they got to have a good time while they deal with the loss.