Tuesday, March 31, 2009

KSE Fails On Second Road Game

The Rapids just "announced" (by not mentioning that it had changed and hoping nobody noticed) that this weekend's game will only be available on Direct Kick or MLSLive.tv. Originally it had been scheduled to air on Alititude 2, also owned by KSE, but apparently KSE decided it wasn't worth the $$$. Given the attendance problems at the first game I'm not sure how making the team less visible when on the road is going to improve things, but hey, maybe that's why I'm not working for KSE.

This brings the total to 3 road games that do not have local TV coverage scheduled at this point, or 20% of the road schedule (Seattle and Toronto are the other two). I could almost see the logic if KSE was buying tome from the local FOX Sports affiliate and the ratings weren't there, but when they own the team and the network and can piggyback on LA's coverage their costs have to be pretty minimal. Apparently even that is too much to spend on the Rapids.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Rapids Benefit From Home "Cooke"ing

After 45 minutes of bad soccer from both teams the Rapids managed to play slightly better than the Wizards in the second half and started off their home schedule with a win. I'd spend more time on the first half than that, but it was really bad soccer with nothing to be gained from reviewing it other than figuring out who played the worst.

I'd like to say the second half was significantly better but I'd be lying. Still the Rapids had the better overall play, and if it weren't for a complete mental blunder by Cory Gibbs the Rapids would have put the game away. The half stared out with Claudio Lopez getting a free run at goal, but Matt Pickens made the first of a number of saves to keep the Rapids in the game. In the 65th minute KC's Leathers picked up a yellow card for a foul just outside the box. This stoppage of play allowed the Rapids to make a sub, and that's when the game changed. Terry Cooke was inserted for Jacob Peterson and ran over to take the free kick. After discussions with Ballouchy Cooke opted to take the kick, and with his first touch of the season he put the ball into the back of the net to give the Rapids a 1-0 lead.

The lead did not last long however. On a clearance upfield Cory Gibbs bizarrely let the ball bounce past him without making much of an effort. He had no help behind him (Harvey and Ihemelu were not to be found) and Michael Kraus ran on to the loose ball with only Pickens to beat,. Pickens went low, Kraus chipped over him, and KC tied the score after only 4 minutes. Pickens would make 2 more clutch saves in the half to keep KC at 1 goal.

5 minutes later the Rapids would strike back with one of the better goals in recent years. Off a Kc corner kick Terry Cooke (again!) played a long diagonal ball out of the back to a streaking Colin Clark. The KC defense converged on him like they had been doing all night, but this time Clark saw the opening and played the ball into the middle of the field in front of an onrushing Omar Cummings. Cummings made Hartman go low and then put it past him for his second goal in two games. The quick counter-attack and smooth passing was a example of skill rarely seen at DSG Park. After that the Rapids hunkered down to protect their lead, and made a couple of solid forays forward led by pinpoint crosses form Terry Cooke.

My Key to the Game was discipline, and the Rapids didn't show it. Sloppy passing, questionable runs, and a complete brain fart from Gibbs hurt the team all night. The only thing that saved us was that KC played even worse, and not because of anything we did. I'll take the 3 points anyway I can get them, but we need t improve, quickly, if we're going to compete this year.

Other Observations:
  • Ballouchy is a black hole in midfield. I can count the number of quality forward passes he made on one hand. Whatever Smith thinks he's getting out of him, he's not
  • Peterson is all speed and nothing else. Given the amount of time he's been in the league I expect more by now. Cooke did significantly more in his 26 minutes than Peterson has done in his 84 minutes this season.
  • Ugo Ihemelu had a solid game on defense. His distribution needs work (too many long balls) but he took over the enforcer role that Pablo left vacant while in El Salvador and broke up countless KC attacks. I kept waiting for his once-per-game mental blunder, but it never came.
  • I feel for Kimura. People complain about his distribution, but when your two outlets are Peterson and Ballouchy, you aren't getting much help. At one point I could almost see him look at Peterson, think "That will kill the attack", look at Ballouchy, have the same thought, then play a neutral ball to Ihemelu.
  • Pickens likes to go to Kimura for outlets. I think 90% of his outlets in the first half went to KK.
  • If Clark can find the balance between going at 1-2 players and passing when he's double-teamed he's going to be very, very dangerous. Finding Cummings on the goal was a perfect example of this. He's dangerous enough on the dribble that the opposition will need to bring help over to cover him, and that will make an opening elsewhere on the field for him to exploit.
Man of the Match: I can't decide so I'm splitting it between Terry Cooke and Matt Pickens. Cooke's entry into the game completely changed the nature of the Rapids game, and he was the most dangerous player on the field all night. it wouldn't have mattered though if Pickens hadn't come up big on 3-4 saves to keep the Rapids in the game. Thus they get to split the award.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Rapids Try To Melt the Wizards

Home opener tomorrow night! The weather is clearing and according to the Undercurrent the complex will be ready to welcome the fans and the Kansas City Wizards to start the home schedule. The supporters groups are tailgating in a new spot this year, out front of the Cantina. Tailgate starts 3 hours before the game and all are welcome.

Injury Report:
PROBABLE: DF Ty Harden (groin); MF Mehdi Ballouchy (R knee strain)
International Absences:
MF Pablo Mastroeni (USA)

Another very favorable injury report for the Rapids, meanwhile Chivas has 5 players listed on their report and Espinoza has been called into the Honduran National Team. For the Rapids I predict:

Kimura - Ihemelu - Gibbs - Harvey
Peterson - Ballouchy - Clark
Cummings - Casey

There's some talk that Ballouchy won't be ready to go tomorrow night and Smith has been impressed with Cooke this week. Cookie played attacking mid in the Burgundy & Blue game on Tuesday so it wouldn't be a huge shock to see him get the start.

Key To Look For:

Discipline. Last week the Rapids showed for 40 minutes that they bought into Gary Smith's system and in that time they controlled the game. Then they started sliding back into the 2008 team that didn't play to a game plan. The Rapids need to
stay focused for 90 minutes and continue to have faith int he plan and stick with it.

Prediction: 2-0 win, goals by Conor Casey and Gregory Richardson, Terry Cooke gets an assist. The Rapids are healthy and while losing Pablo hurts they have cover for him. They are going to have a great crowd behind them and with the natural altitude advantage they can run an injured KC into the ground.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Suite Burgundy & Blue Game

The Rapids held their annual Burgundy and Blue game last night. In a change from the prior years the Rapids brought in another team, Metro State, instead of having an intra-squad scrimmage. They also opened the game to anyone who wanted to view it, instead of just season ticket holders and Commerce City residents.

The only starter from the Chivas game to play was Kimura, who got 30 minutes in on his tender ankle. I'm guessing the trainers thought it would be better for Kimura to exercise it through playing instead of resting it until Saturday. The other interesting thing in the formation was Terry Cooke playing attacking mid instead of on the right side. Cooke controlled the game well, distributing passes and taking long shots. One of his attempts panned out to give the Rapids a 1-0 lead at halftime. The team would go on to win 6-0 with goals from Cooke, Schunk (2), Richardson (2), and Peterson. I thought Richardson showed well, but had a tendency to play with the ball a bit too much. Burpo had a poor game with some questionable ball control.

The best part of the night was that the Rapids opened some suites and the press lounge to season ticket holders. Having not been a season ticket holder or having been around during the construction this was my first time to see the upper levels of the West Side of the stadium. The team opened up the large party suite on the third floor and 5 of the smaller suites on the second floor. The Rapids also catered the event, though they saved the good food for some of the corporate clients they had on the 2nd floor before the game, giving the supporters chips, popcorn, pretzels, and soda. A number of players made an appearance in the suites, I saw Conor Casey, Cory Gibbs, Nick LaBrocca, and I literally bumped into Omar Cummings in the hallway. I also saw Technical Director Paul Bravo in the GM box.

This was my first chance at seeing suites at a professional sports complex so I don't have a basis for comparison. The suites all have exterior seating that have great views of the field. I thought the suites themselves were fairly unimpressive, but I'm guessing that they aren't targeted at die-hard fans. I thought the press area was nice and had the best view in the stadium. I'd love a chance to live blog a game from there sometime, just to get a new perspective on the game.

I noticed a couple of new things at the stadium as well. Aliki Pizza (Who is sponsoring the family night packages this year) has a noticeable presence and it appears the food window in the NE corner has been turned into a pizza window. Also Smiling Moose Deli has taken over the northern food conference on the East side. My favorite stop, the mini-doughnuts stand, was not there last night but I'm hoping that they just felt the Burgundy & Blue game wasn't worth the effort and they'll be back in place on Saturday night.

Roster News

Burgundy & Blue game review coming later tonight. First the Rapids have just announced the signing of one of their draft picks, defender Mike Holody, to a developmental contract. John DiRaimondo was waived to make room for him. DiRaimondo got some good playing time early last year but apparently didn't fit into Gary Smith's plans. The Rapids have now signed 3 draft picks, Holody, GK Steward Ceus, and F Ross Schunk.

In other news that I didn't get a chance to mention last week Pablo Mastroeni was called up to the National Team for this weekend's World Cup Qualifier in El Salvador and next week's Qualifier in Nashville against Trinidad & Tobago. He'll miss the home opener for the Rapids but should be back in time for the game in LA the next weekend.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Rapids Supporters Party

I was going to do a writeup of Sunday night's supporter's party at the DSG Park Cantina today. Deron White over at the Colorado Rapids Examiner beat me to it though, and since I was standing right behind him for the Gary Smith discussion I see no reason to duplicate his work. Go over there to get the lowdown on what Coach Smith said. I did get a chance to talk to a few of the Rapids reps after Smith addressed the supporters, so I'll fill in the added info I got.

Head Coach Gary Smith:
  • There were no injury concerns after the rough play in the Chivas match. He expects both Clark and Kimura to be ready to go next week.
  • The field at the Dick will stay the same width last season. If you remember in 2007 the field was the maximum allowed 80 yards but they narrowed it to 75 yards last season to squeeze in some field-side seats (and there was a rumor that Clavijo didn't think he had the team to play that wide of a field). Smith says he likes the way the team plays at the 75 yards width. I asked because looking at the field lightly-lined on Sunday night it seemed wider than last year.
Assistant Coach Steve Guppy:
  • He talked about how the tackles in the Chivas game were worse than some of the rough play you see in the EPL, which is generally considered to be the most physical of the European leagues.
  • Guppy mentioned that he was setting his alarm for 5:30 Monday morning so he could get up to call a player (or his agent, it was unclear) in England. He wouldn't say any more than that to us, but the Rapids are continuing to look for new options.
  • I also got a chance to tell him that I was glad he joined the team since I first started following English soccer by following his Leicester City club.
General Manager Jeff Plush:
  • I finally got a chance to thank Plush in person for his quick response to my email last year about comments Clavijo had made in an FSC interview. He said that there was a right way and a wrong way to do things and even though you're frustrated and worried (as I'm sure FC was at the time) that's no excuse.
  • We also talked a bit about how the Beckham deal went down. We agree that its always good to see a Rapids rival in turmoil like the Galaxy are, but it may have not been the best decision for the league as a whole, at least the league's image if not its bottom line.
Rapids midfielder Terry Cooke:
  • I didn't talk to Terry for very long but he did say that he expects to play in tonight's Burgundy & Blue game.
That's it for now. I'll have a unique look at the Burgundy & Blue game tomorrow, and the Weekend Roundup on Thursday (probably), before the KC game preview on Friday.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Goats eat Rapids defense for dinner

The Rapids played well in the first half, poorly in the second half, and ended up coming home with no points from a game they really should have gotten at least a point from.

The team looked like it had learned from Gary Smith in the first half., Aggressive defending, ball control, and pressure on the offensive end. It finally paid off as Snack Thorton spilled a Ihemelu shot and Omar Cummings was there for the rebound. The Rapids kept the pressure up and should have been leading by 2 or 3 at halftime.

The only lowlight from the first half was the officiating. Apparently nobody told Terry Vaughn that the preseason was over and he had to work now. Colin Clark is lucky he still has ankles left after Chivas USA did everything but surgically removing them in the first half and Kosuke Kimura took a hit that could have broken his leg had he been unlucky. No cards were given but the team captains were warned at half than the "next" two footed tackle would be a red card. Of course Vaughn followed up his threat by only showing yellow the rest of the game.

The whistle to start the second half heralded the return of the 2008 Rapids. Scatterbrained defending, kick-and-run attacks, and mental lapses led to Chivas dominating the game. Between the 53rd and 63rd minutes Chivas got 3 shots on gaol, the only shots on goal by either team in the second half, and 2 of them went in. The first was a low shot from outside the box by Nagamura. Neither Ihemelu or Gibbs stepped up to shut him down, and Pickens footwork seemed to fail him allowing the ball to slide inside th post. On the second Kimura made a AYSO mistake of clearing the ball short and to the center of the field where Nagamura was waiting to rifle it home. After that Chivas was content to let the Rapids play long ball while they protected their lead.

I said the Key to the Game was consistency, and our play bore that out. In the first half when we were showing with Smith had (presumably) drilled into the team in the offseason we controlled the game and looked like the better team. In the second half when we reverted to our disorganized play of the last couple of years Chivas was able to take control of the game. This should show the players that Smith is putting them on the right track.

Some other observations-
The Good:
  • Pablo was a rock in midfield like usual. We'll miss him next week when he's on Nats duty.
  • Conor Casey's touch has gotten better. He still had occasional feet of stone, but his first touches as a whole were better.
  • Richardson brought a good deal of energy to the game, but his play time was so small it was hard to see much else.
  • Colin Clark has taken Gary Smith's calls to go at defenders to heart.
The Bad:
  • Colin Clark took Smith's calls to go at defenders too much to heart. There are times to pass instead of trying to beat 3 players.
  • LaBrocca really doesn't bring anything to the offensive side of the ball. He's a solid holding mid, but he doesn't add much to the attack.
  • Peterson ran real fast, but didn't do much else
  • Gibbs and Ihemelu were way too casual in defense
The Ugly:
  • Kimura, really? Clear that ball out or long, not short and right in front of goal!
  • Ballouchy, why are you on the field again? You obviously don't want to play any part of soccer that involves actually contacting any other player.
  • Terry Vaughn's officiating
Man of the Match: Conor Casey. He showed leadership, was aggressive in the attack, and tried to carry the team to victory. A real step up in taking ownership of the team compared to last season.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Let's Get This Party Started!

Time to kick off the 2009 season! This year I'm going to try to cut down on the length of my game previews/reviews, and you might even see me do some different things like focusing on just one player or element of the game. For now though I'll just give an overview similar to last year.

The Rapids travel to LA-LA land to take on Chivas USA in the Toolbox. Kickoff is at 8:30pm MDT. The supporters groups will be gathering at their normal spot, the British Bulldog in downtown Denver.

Injury Report:
PROBABLE: DF Ty Harden (groin)

A very favorable injury report for the Rapids, meanwhile Chivas has 8 players listed on their report which will cause them to juggle their lineup quite a bit. For the Rapids I predict:

Kimura - Ihemelu - Gibbs - Harvey
LaBrocca - Ballouchy - Clark
Cummings - Casey

Bench: Burpo, Guerrero, Harden, Cooke, Peterson, Dalby, Richardson

Gary Smith has talked about using LaBrocca on the right to provide cover for Ballouchy. I'd rather see Cooke starting myself. Harvey has gotten most of the starts in preseason so I'm assuming he'll start over Guerrero. The 18 players I listed are the ones the Rapids announced will be on the trip.

Key To Look For:

Consistency. With the exception of Pickens the starters were all on the team last year, and with the exception of Ballouchy they were all starting at the end of the season. There shouldn't be much confusion or settling in with this group. If there is, that means that there was poor preparation in the preseason.

Prediction: 2-1 win, goals by Conor Casey and Colin Clark. I think the healthy and stable Rapids have an advantage, even on the road, over a Chivas side still coming together and missing numerous starters due to injury. I wouldn't be shocked to only get out of LA with a draw (The Rapids have never won a season opener on the road) but I think there are 3 points available for the taking. A loss really should be unacceptable in this situation.

Palguta and Richardson (finally) signed

The long-rumored signings of defender Scott Palguta and forward Gregory Richardson are now official. This completes the Rapids roster of 24 players going into the 2009 MLS season.

Bold = New contract this offseason

Mehdi Ballouchy (MID)
Preston Burpo (GK)
Conor Casey (FWD)
Steward Ceus (GK) - Development Contract
Colin Clark (MID)
Nico Colaluca (MID) - Development Contract
Terry Cooke (MID)
Omar Cummings (FWD)
Greg Dalby (MID)
John DiRaimondo (MID) - Development Contract
Cory Gibbs (DEF)
Ivan Guerrero (MID)
Ty Harden (DEF)
Jordan Harvey (DEF)
Ugo Ihemelu (DEF)
Kosuke Kimura (DEF)
Nick LaBrocca (MID)
Pablo Mastroeni (MID)
Ciaran O’Brien (MID) - Development Contract
Scott Palguta (DEF)
Jacob Peterson (MID)
Matt Pickens (GK)
Gregory Richardson (FWD)
Ross Schunk (FWD)

By position:
GK - 3 (2 new contracts)
DEF - 6 (5 new contracts)
MID - 11 (3 new contracts)
FWD - 4 (3 new contract)

A Chivas game preview will be up later tonight

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

2009 Season Preview

The Rapids enter 2009 looking very much like the team that ended 2008. The only significant change in the team was in the nets, and there's a good chance that the only starter on Saturday night that won't have been on the roster at the end of 2008 will be goalkeeper Matt Pickens. The big change to the Rapids is behind the scenes. Gary Smith was given full control of the team after being the interim coach for the last third of 2008, and Paul Bravo joined the Front Office as Technical Director. While the players haven't changed much, hopefully the style and mentality of the team has been overhauled from the failed Clavijo area. I'll break this preview down by position to see where we stand heading into 2009.

Bouna Time! has ended in Colorado. After passing on a contract that would have made him one of the top 5 paid keepers in MLS Bouna Coundoul has decided to try his luck in Europe. The Rapids moved quickly to fill this hole, swapping 2nd round picks with Chicago and sending allocation money to the Windy City on draft day for the rights to Matt Pickens. They followed that up by drafting Steward Ceus, who followed Coundoul at the University of Albany. Preston Burpo returns from 2008 to round out the goalkeeping trio. Pickens is expected to be the starter and there shouldn't be much difference between him and Coundoul. Pickens has spent time with the U.S. Nats, but is not in the picture for the 2010 World Cup. We may lose his services during the Gold Cup though, as I expect to see some of the second and third string Nats called up for that competition as the first-team players have plenty of work this year with the Confederations Cup and World Cup Qualifiers. His backup early on will probably be Burpo, but Ceus may challenge quickly. Ceus displaced Justin Hughes on the roster, who was caught int he roster crunch when the reserve league was eliminated.

The Rapids churned through a number of players on defense this offseason. They waived Tim Ward, Mike Petke and Stephen Keel, and did not offer Jose Burciaga a new contract. To replace the departing players they traded a draft pick to LA for the rights to Ty Harden and they got Ivan Guerrero from DC in the Christian Gomez trade. They also signed Kosuke Kimura, Ugo Ihemelu, and Jordan Harvey to long term deals. It appears that the Rapids are on the verge of announcing the signing of Scott Palguta from Rochester as well. The signing has been long rumored and Palguta has been added to the team roster on MLSnet. This leaves them with a number of young players in defense, plus Cory Gibbs and Ivan Guerrero to try to lead them. The Rapids have been rumored to be trying to sign 2 other defenders, draft pick Mike Holody and Julien Baudet from Crewe in England. Baudet would bring the experience and leadership this group lacks, but at what price. Baudet won't be available until June though, and with Palguta apparently signed Holody is probably unnecessary so we'll start the season with a back line of Kimura - Ihemelu - Gibbs - Harvey, with Harden and Guerrero being options depending on what strategy the coach employs. That's a good deal of youth so we can expect some growing pains, but if the Rapids can keep the majority of this group together that's a pretty solid line to build on for the next few years.

The big off-season move was the trade of Christian Gomez. Gomez obviously didn't fit into Gary Smith's plan so it was just a matter of time before he was moved. The Rapids actually did a pretty good job of getting value back for him, getting their DP slot and a player back. Not a bad recovery from a disastrous trade. The one thing the Rapids haven't done yet is fill the need his departure created and it appears that Smith is happy using LaBrocca or Ballouchy int he role of attacking midfielder. I think this will be a weakness for the team as neither one has shown (in admittedly limited playing time) that they can run an MLS offense. Outside of the attacking mid position the midfield is the strength of the Rapids with Mastroeni, Cooke, and Clark. It appears though that Smith may be starting Peterson in place of Cooke, something I find very surprising, but supposedly he's been working with Jacob int he offseason. Still Cooke is available to shore up that side if we need it. If the Rapids can find a central midfielder then they are good to go.

The Rapids ended the 2008 season with only Conor Casey, Omar Cummings, and Tom McManus on the roster as true forwards. They are starting the 2009 season with only Conor Casey, Omar Cummings, and Jordan Schunk on the roster as true forwards. I think you can see the problem there. There seems to be a good deal of faith that Casey can keep up the strike rate he finished the season with (6 goals in 5 games) but looking at his career stats I don't see that happening. That means Cummings is going to have to finally take the next step and claim a role as a sure starter or we're going to be hurting. Smith has lots of good things to say about Schunk, but he his a rookie and we shouldn't expect much from him yet. The Rapids also acquired the rights to Gregory Richardson from Trindad & Tobago's Joe Public. Richardson lit up New England for 4 goals in a Champions League game, which put him on every MLS radar, but that's the extent of his competition against MLS teams. He's not signed yet but he could give us some depth. The Rapids have also been linked with a summer move for Jason Euell, but that rumor has died down lately and I'm not sure if he'd be worth the money he would demand. Whatever the Rapids do they need to find depth up front, preferably in the form of a sure starter to pair with Casey.

The big change for Colorado is on the sidelines as Gary Smith takes over for Fernando Clavijo. It was obvious more than a year ago that Clavijo had lost the plot as a MLS coach and the move was far overdue. Smith seems to have the respect of the players, as many of them have talked about how much better things are after Clavijo, but it remains to be seen if he can guide a MLS side. He's brought in Steve Guppy as his assistant coach and re-signed David Kramer as GK coach. From all indications, plus the backgrounds of Smith and Guppy, we can expect a traditional "English style" 4-4-2 this year. Unlike a number of fans I don't really care if the Rapids win pretty, as long as they win, so I'm not dreading seeing the English game, yet. Smith has said all the right things this offseason, and has talked about working one on one with players like Peterson and Clark, which is more than we ever heard from Clavijo. The proof is in the pudding though, or in this case, on the scoreboard.

Front Office:
The Rapids signed Paul Bravo as the Technical Director, which seems to amount to something along the lines of "General Manager for Soccer Operations". He'll be responsible for scouting and the youth teams and support the coaching staff of the first team. This is a much needed position in the Rapids FO as it seemed that after you got past the coaching staff there was no soccer knowledge in the organization. It paid immediate dividends as within 48 hours Bravo was able to deal for Ty Harden. In fact the Rapids didn't make a single bad move this offseason in my opinion, the only mistake they seemed to have made is not making enough good ones. If they can keep that track record up then we won't have to worry about puzzling midseason moves like we've seen in past years.

The Rapids have not been successful in making their new home at the Dick a fortress. For a team that has the best natural home-field advantage dropping any points at home should be seen as failure to be avoided at all costs. Since they opened the stadium the Rapids have won less than 50% of their games there, and finished 1-2 wins out of the playoffs. If Colorado is to be successful in 2009 they need to challenge for double-digit wins at home. The road is always a tough place to play in MLS, but the team seemed to turn it around late last season with wins against Chivas and NY on the road. If the team can start winning, they'll get more support form the fans which will increase the home field advantage.

This offseason I think the Rapids did not significantly improve in any area except coaching. Given how bad Clavijo was, that's a significant step forward. I expect the Rapids to be in the playoff battle but it will go down to the last couple of games before they know if they make the playoffs or not. I think they're short a an above average player at central mid or forward in order to feel confident of making a playoffs. Filling both those holes with quality players would make the Rapids a team to take seriously when it comes to MLS Cup. The Rapids do have the type of squad and coaching who could make a deep run in the U.S. Open Cup. They have the youth and depth (everywhere but up front) to bounce back from weekend games and be ready for the mid-week Cup games, and Smith and Guppy know the value of a cup run. I would not be surprised to see Colorado get at least to the quarterfinals.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Giles Grimandi Part Deux?

Sky Sports is reporting that the Rapids have offered Frenchman Julien Baudet a 2-year contract. He's a central defender currently playing with Crewe Alexandra in England's League One, which is the third division in England.

I don't see this as a strong move for the Rapids, if true. A player that can't get out of League One when most MLS players that go to England end up in either the Premiership or the Championship is an indicator that he's average MLS quality at best. Not only that its paying for a player where we have lots of depth. Right now we have 3 dedicated central backs in Ihemelu, Gibbs, and Harden, plus two defensive mids that have spent time on the back line in Pablo and Dalby.

If we're going to make a big signing like this it needs to be further up the field at either central mid or striker.

And for your Rapids history lesson this week, Giles Grimandi was a French center back and midfielder who signed for the Rapids in 2003, only to leave the team before the start of the season. The reported reason was that he faced abuse from Denver citizens (this was the height of the anti-French "Freedom Fries" movement in the U.S.) but rumors were that he and head coach Tim Hankinson never saw eye to eye, to the point where Grimandi was left to do his own training instead of working with the team.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Weekend Roundup 3/14 - 3/15

Colorado Rapids - Its Kickoff Week! Rapids @ Chivas on Saturday night to get the MLS season started!

Queen of the South
- QoS traveled to Dundee on Tuesday and Airdrie on Saturday looking to build a cushion between them and the relegation zone. Tuesday's match was quiet until just before halftime when Barry Wilson volleyed home to give the Doonhamers the elad at the break. Dundee hit back after the interval and it became a game of punch-counter punch as Queens went ahead again only to see Dundee equalize again. Queen of the South went ahead for the final time in the 77th minute and took 3 points back to Dumfries with them. The second half wasn't so kind to QoS on Saturday as they conceded twice in the first 15 minutes of the second half and couldn't find a way back from the hole they dug. Still 3 points out of two road games in a week is a good haul, and with those points QoS moves up to 6th in the 1st Division, 4 points above the relegation playoff zone with 7 games to play. The teams in 7th and 8th place have a combined 5 games in hand though, so Queens could find themselves sliding back down the table.

Blackburn Rovers - After having last weekend off the Rovers made up for it with two road games. The frozen-out game against Fulham, originally scheduled to be played after the end of the season, got rescheduled again for this past Wednesday. This was followed by a second trip to London to face Arsenal. Blackburn started off badly at Craven cottage as American Clint Dempsey beat fellow former MLS player Ryan Nelsen to put Fulham on top after just two minutes. Rovers kept their heads up though and after weathering the storm of the first 20 minutes Blackburn started to take control of the match. The teams went into the locker rooms with Fulham still leading 1-0 but Blackburn wouldn't be denied with Diouf and Roberts scoring in the last 20 minutes to claim the 3 points. Blackburn returned to London, in theory, on Saturday but apparently they left their game in Blackburn. After allowing another goal int he first two minutes Arsenal scored 3 times in the last half hour to put a 4-0 beat down on Rovers. The less said about it the better. With the results Blackburn are finally out of the relegation zone with 1 point separating themselves from relegation and 9 games to play.

CD Tenerife - Tenerife hosted Albacete in Santa Cruz with a chance to draw even with Xerez on top of the table after the leaders only managed a draw on Saturday. CDT took the lead early on an Alfaro goal in the 27th minute only to give the lead back 2 minutes later on a PK. In the second half the game turned chippy with 6 yellow cards between the teams being added to 2 given out in the first half. The game ended with the visitors going down a man but it was too late for Tenerife to capitalize and they missed their chance to move up to first. CDT actually slides down a spot to third, remaining two points behind the leaders with 14 games to play. They currently have 3 points and a tiebreaker separating them from the first non-promotion place in the table.

Kildare County - New season, same County. After going up shortly before the break Kildare gave the lead back right before half and then conceded two more times in the second half on their way to a 3-1 road loss. Two games in and County has scored first in both games only to have 1 point for their efforts. The Thoroughbreds need to figure out how to play for 90 minutes if they don't want to repeat their relegation season of last year. Its not likely another team will fail to qualify for First Division play a second year in a row.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Schunk signed, Keel waived

The Rapids have just announced that they signed draft pick forward Ross Schunk. They also waived defender Stephen Keel. The Rapids currently have all 4 developmental spots filled by DiRaimondo, Ceus, O'Brien, and Colaluca so either Schunk was signed as a senior player or one of those 4 got an upgrade to senior status. Either way, Schunk gives us depth at forward, something we desperately need with only Cummings and Casey as signed forwards. Losing a young guy like Keel hurts a bit, but it was a battle of numbers and with Kimura, Harden, Ihemelu, and Harvey as young guys on the back line already there just wasn't room for another young defender.

Preseason News and Notes - 3/13

Sorry for the lack of updates this week. Work has kept me way too busy and I haven't had a chance to put anything together until now. The Rapids have been somewhat quiet this week though, unusually so for the next to last week of the preseason, so there's not that much to talk about. Next week I'll have a full season preview and a Chivas game preview next Friday.
  • Multiple sources report that the Rapids have signed Scoot Palguta from the Rochester Rhinos.
All of those sources are based on the same Rochester newspaper article quoting Palguta. When the article came out on Wednesday I contacted the Rapids for confirmation and got a complete denial. Given the fact that the player has said he's signed I am betting that the Rapids are still dotting the i's and crossing the t's on the transaction but for right now he has not been signed yet.
  • Rapids finish out the preseason with a 1-0 win over the Sounders in Seattle
It was a closed door match so we don't have much to go on. Casey scored a PK in the first half for the only goal. The biggest news out of the game is the starting lineup that included Peterson, Ballouchy, and Harvey and not LaBrocca, Cooke, or Guerrero. Given that this is the last game of the preseason the assumption is that the probable starters would get most of the playing time. I'm not real surprised about Ballouchy over LaBrocca, and Harvey over Guerrero is a bit of a surprise but that might be a defensive focus over a more offensive one. The real surprise to me is Peterson over Cooke. Based on last year's play Peterson would have had to significantly improve to rate starting over Cooke (or Cooke would have had to have fallen off a cliff). I hope Peterson has really improved that much and this isn't an instance of Smith trying to force in a player over a more talented choice.
  • Altitude releases their TV schedule for the Rapids season
Altitude will once again be the TV home for the Rapids when they aren't on National TV. Altitude is covering every non-National game (7 games) except for the road games in Seattle and Toronto. There was no reason given, but the Rapids did say they are working on other options for those games. The Rapids need to step up and get every road game, if not every game, on TV. If they don't fans will be forced to go to Direct Kick or MLSLive.tv. All home games on Altitude will be preceded by a 30 minute pre-game, and Avs announcer Mike Haynes and Rapids legend Marcelo Balboa will be the commentary team.
  • Supporters Groups season-kickoff party announced
Class VI and the Centennial Firm will be hosting a season kickoff party at the DSG Park Cantina on March 22nd from 6 to 8pm. The party is open to all fans regardless of membership in one of the groups. There will be a silent auction, raffle prizes, and Gary Smith will be there to give us a State of the Team update. This is the night after the Chivas game in LA, so hopefully we'll even have a win to talk about!

Only 8 days until the season kicks off!!!!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Weekend Roundup 3/7 - 3/8

Colorado Rapids - 13 days until the Rapids face Chivas at the Toolbox!

Queen of the South
- QoS hosted Morton at Palmerston Park. Queens packed the midfield which led to a pretty drab game. While both sides had a couple of good chances it wasn't until just before the break that the deadlock was broken. The Doonhamers keeper took a knock and on the ensuing corner kick Morton found the back of the net to take a 1-0 lead into the locker room. It took 30 minutes in the second period before QoS levelled the score on a Martyn Lancaster header. Both sides had opportunities to break the stalemate before the end of the game but had to settle for a draw. The single point didn't help South's position very much, leaving them only 2 points from the relegation zone in 8th place with 9 games to play.

Blackburn Rovers - Rovers had the weekend off for FA Cup action.

CD Tenerife - Tenerife faced Alicante on the road, but the new location didn't stop the team from a fast start. Between the 30th and 36 minute CDT scored twice to take a solid 2-0 lead, even with playing with their backup keeper after normal starter and team leader Sergio Aragoneses was diagnosed with pancreatitis this week. Unfortunately the travel and the unsettling week seemed to get to Tenerife as they conceded twice in the second half to end up with only a point for their efforts. The good news is that the rest of the leading teams in the Segunda Division also drew this weekend, leaving CDT solidly in second place, 3 points behind the leaders. They still have a 3 point cushion on their promotion spot with 15 games to play.

Kildare County - The renewed Thoroughbreds started their new campaign in the First Dvision by hosting Finn Harps. After a quiet first half County scored 3 minutes after the break on a long-range shot by David O'Riordan. This appeared to be all Kildare would need to get their season off to a three point start, but Harps scored with only 7 minutes left to escape town with a point. Its just the beginning of the season, but County can't afford to be dropping points like that at home.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Rapids Salary Info - 2009 - March 15th Update

The MLS Players Union has released it list of 2009 salaries. Its current as of the March 2nd roster compliance date. The Union will publish the salaries for players signe dafter that date probably shortly after the season starts.

The Rapids 2009 team base salary based on these numbers is just over 2.1 million, which puts them 11th in the league. If you add in the 200K of Gomez's salary that the Rapids are reportedly covering it counters the 145K of Generation Adidas salaries (Colaluca, O'Brien) that don't count against the cap. Its a little unclear as to which number, the base or the guarenteed, conts against the cap and currently the Rapids are at about 2.3 million in guarenteed salary. That give the Rapids roughly between 100K and 300K to use ont heir last two roster spots.

Here's the list of the Colorado salaries. The first number is their base salary, the second number is their guaranteed salary for 2009. For comparison, the 2008 numbers are here.

Ballouchy Mehdi M $ 1 00,000.00 $ 118,000.00
Burpo Preston GK $ 5 7,871.99 $ 57,871.99
Casey Conor F $ 2 00,000.00 $ 200,000.00
Ceus Steward GK $ 2 0,100.00 $ 20,100.00
Clark Colin M $ 8 5,000.00 $ 90,000.00
Colaluca Nico M $ 7 5,000.00 $ 108,000.00
Cooke Terry M $ 1 87,500.00 $ 192,500.00
Cummings Omar F $ 6 5,000.00 $ 73,750.00
Dalby Greg M $ 3 4,650.00 $ 34,650.00
Gibbs Cory D $ 1 10,000.00 $ 117,142.86
Guerrero Ivan M $ 1 54,000.00 $ 161,000.00
Harden Ty D $ 3 4,008.00 $ 34,008.00
Harvey Jordan D $ 5 0,000.00 $ 51,250.00
Ihemelu Ugo D $ 1 40,000.00 $ 140,000.00
Kimura Kosuke D $ 5 2,500.00 $ 52,500.00
LaBrocca Nick M $ 7 0,000.00 $ 72,500.00
Mastroeni Pablo M $ 2 55,000.00 $ 300,500.00
O'Brien Ciaran M $ 7 0,000.00 $ 103,750.00
Peterson Jacob F $ 1 00,000.00 $ 118,750.00
Pickens Matt GK $ 1 25,000.00 $ 127,500.00
Richardson Gregory F $ 5 7,000.00 $ 62,250.00
Schunk Ross F $ 3 4,008.00 $ 34,008.00

It appears that Pablo didn't quite get the big raise we all thought he did, his guarenteed number is about 18K lower than 2008.. I thought giving him a raise on a long-term contract at his age was a bit much, so seeing the lower than expected number made me feel better about that signing. Clark's salary has tripled with his new contract, Cummings has doubled. LaBrocca is the big winner with a increase of 600%, but that's easier to do when you only made 12.9K last year.

Outside of the Generation Adidas players, who are given big contracts to be development players, my candidates for most overpaid are Mehdi Ballouchy and Jacob Peterson who are both making 118K after a few years in the league without a lot of production. You have to figure 2009 is a make or break year for both of them. John DiRaimondo is is clear winner in the most underpaid category, only making 20K after spending 2008 as a regular in the game-day roster with 11 apperances and 8 starts.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Weekend Roundup 2/28 - 3/1

Colorado Rapids - The Rapids faced LA in the Home Depot Center for a preseason warmup on Wednesday. Colorado brought their scoring boots with them, netting 5 goals against a Old Spice and PrimaDonnavan-less Galaxy for a 5-2 win. 16 days until the season starts!

Queen of the South
- The Doonhamers traveled to Clyde on Saturday. Unfortunately QoS conceded a PK within the first 10 minutes, then O'Conner had to be removed after 30 minutes due to a leg injury. Queens refused to say die though and continually battled for the tying goal. Their persistence finally paid off with 12 minutes to play as Stevie Tosh leveled the score. Both sides had a chance to win it in the final minutes but neither could convert and the teams settled for the draw. QoS stay in 7th place, 4 points out of the relegation zone and 12 points off the lead with 10 games to play.

Blackburn Rovers - Rovers had two games this week. First up was on the road at Hull City. While the first 30 minutes of the game were fairly bland, Rovers scored twice in the last 15 minute of the first half to go into the break with a 2 goal lead. The teams exchanged red cards in teh second half before Hull scored inside the last 10 minutes to really make Blackburn sweat. They escaped with the 3 points though and temporarily got out of the relegation zone. That didn't last long however as they faced Everton at home yesterday and could only manage a scoreless draw. Combined with the other midweek results Rovers slid back to 18th place, inside the relegation zone by 1 point with 9 games to play. They have a game in hand on all the other bottom 6 teams except Portsmouth.

CD Tenerife - Tenerife hosted Celta Vigo in Santa Cruz in front of almost 19,000 fans. They scored twice in the first 10 minutes and added a third in the first 10 minutes of the second half to cruise to an easy victory. Leaders Xerez only managed a draw, so CDT is back within 3 points of the lead. They also have a 3 point cushion before falling out of the promotion zone. Still 16 games to play though, so there's plenty of time for things to fall apart.

Kildare County - Kildare County's redemption season in the first division starts on Saturday night with a home game against Finn Harps. The season runs for 8 months from March 7th to November 7th.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Roster Moves

Yesterday the Rapids made 4 roster moves to get to roster compliance. Draftee Steward Ceus became the third goalkeeper on the roster when he signed a development contract, and last year's players Justin Hughes, Kwamie Sarkodie, and Cesar Zambrano were waived. None of the three players logged significant time with the first team in prior years. The closest was Justin Hughes who got caught in a battle with Ceus for the 3rd GK spot, and losing all of last season to injury did not help his prospects.

With the moves the Rapids have 22 of a possible 24 players on their roster, and 5 other players in camp competing for the last two spots. These 22 players included the recently unretired Ty Harden, who has signed a contract with the team but has not been playing in recent preseason games due to injury, and Ivan Guerrero, who was acquired from DC United int he Gomez trade. It does not include Gregory Richardson who's rights the Rapids acquired last week from Toronto but who has not been signed yet. The 22 rostered players are (bold indicates a new contract this offseason):

Mehdi Ballouchy (MID)
Preston Burpo (GK)
Conor Casey (FWD)
Steward Ceus (GK)
Colin Clark (MID)
Nico Colaluca (MID)
Terry Cooke (MID)
Omar Cummings (FWD)
Greg Dalby (MID)
John DiRaimondo (MID)
Cory Gibbs (DEF)
Ivan Guerrero (MID)
Ty Harden (DEF)
Jordan Harvey (DEF)
Ugo Ihemelu (DEF)
Stephen Keel (DEF)
Kosuke Kimura (DEF)
Nick LaBrocca (MID)
Pablo Mastroeni (MID)
Ciaran O’Brien (MID)
Jacob Peterson (MID)
Matt Pickens (GK)

The 5 players still competing for a spot are:
Kwame Adjeman-Pamboe (FWD) - Draft pick
Mike Holody (DEF) - Draft pick
Gregory Richardson (FWD) - 2nd Round pick to Toronto to get rights
Ross Schunk (FWD) - Draft pick
Serge Wawa (DEF) - Trialist

Breaking it down by position for all players in camp:
GK - 3 (2 new contracts)
DEF - 7 (2 unsigned, 4 new contracts)
MID - 11 (3 new contracts)
FWD - 5 (3 unsigned, 1 new contract)

As you can see, the rapids have the goalkeeper spot decided, and are solid in midfield as well. Defense is close, only 3 backups for a 4 man back-line doesn't leave a lot of depth so Holody ow Wawa have a shot of making the team but with players like Pablo and Gurrero who can move back from midfield to fill in there's some real competition.

The weakest spot is forward, with only 2 players under contract, plus Jacob Peterson who's spent time up front. With 3 forwards in camp but unsigned there's some real competition for those slots. The Rapids felt good enough about Richardson to trade a draft pick for him, and Gary Smith has had good things to say about Schunk, so Adjeman-Pamboe seems to be the odd man out.

If I had to pick I would guess that Richardson and Schunk get the last two spots to give us depth up front, with Wawa maybe taking the spot from Schunk or hanging around if a player has to start the season on IR. Adjeman-Pamboe and Holody probably have some significant work to do int he next 3 weeks if they're going to make the roster.

Monday, March 2, 2009

New Jerseys and a Rapids Link to a QoS Rival

I'll have the weekly roundup tomorrow, but there was some news from the Rapids today that takes priority. The long-rumored, sometimes-leaked, 2009 jerseys were unveiled today (see picture). The big change is the removal of the wordmarks from the front of the jerseys, leaving them plain with the badge. This might be a precursor to a jersey sponsor, or it may just be the Rapids going minimalist this time around. Other changes include adding an American flag to the left sleeve (a league-wide change this year), a shortening of the Adidas 3-stripes on the shoulders, and '5280' has been added to the back just below the neckline, where in the past the team logo has appeared.

I'm waiting to see if the Rapids are going to sell replicas with names and numbers on them before I decide which version to buy, but I'm leaning towards the long-sleeved home version for those colder nights at the beginning and end of the season. I'll stick with my 2007 short-sleeved home jersey for the summer games. The jerseys are available for pre-order on the Altitude Athletics website.

Also in today's news John Murphy has taken the position of Goalkeeping Coach with Scottish First Division side Livingston FC. Livingston is 5th in the 1st Division, 2 points ahead of Queen of the South. This won't make me root for Livingston, in fact I'll probably root harder for QoS when they play Livingston. ;)