Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Season Review - Forwards

Finally getting to the final part of the season review, the forwards.

Andre Akpan - Akpan only had one appearance this year but got some good experience while on loan to Tampa in the USSF Division II. He'll probably feature in the reserve division next year, and push Amarikwa for the forward spot on the bench until Kandji returns.

Quincy Amarikwa - Quincy was acquired early in the season from San Jose, and became the go-to option off the bench up front until Kandji was acquired. Unfortunately he appeared to be speed with no ball control. While he was great to run at defenses it was quickly obvious that he needed more time to become any type of threat, something borne out by his stats (1 goal and no assists in 13 appearances). Amarikwa will partner with Akpan in the reserve league, but probably not be a real threat for the first team unless his play increases greatly. I would expect the Rapids to either bring in another striker or draft one to challenge Akpan and Amarikwa next season.

Conor Casey - One half of Colorado's C+C Goal Factory, Casey had another great season, finishing with 14 total goals and 6 assists, the best combined total on the team. Despite the disappointment of not making the squad for South Africa Casey kept his head up and made 29 appearances, missing one game due to yellow card accumulation. He capped the season off with a goal and set up Kandji's attack for the own goal in MLS Cup, earning MLS Cup MVP honors.

We've seen that when Casey stays healthy all he does is score goals. At 29 he's probably at the peak of his career, but I don't expect a huge drop-off next season, especially is he's paired with Cummings again. Conor is never going to be the creative force in the team, he's your typical back-to-gal striker who can dish the ball to an onrushing Cummings or turn and shoot.

Omar Cummings - Omar was the team MVP IMO this year. 14 goals and 5 assists were second to Casey, but Cummings stepped up in a big way in the final third of the season when the team needed a spark to make their playoff run. He suffered through being played out of position in Smith's 4-5-1 experiment without complaint, but it was the move back to the 4-4-2 that sparked his resurgence. He had assists on both goals in the Columbus playoff series to push the Rapids through to the conference finals, and it was his run to the near post that allowed Koz's goal to sneak through for the winning goal in the Eastern Conference Final.

Cummings is the biggest question mark on the team going into next year. Currently training with Aston Villa, there's a real chance that he will be sold in the winter transfer window. The Rapids already turned down a mid-season offer for him from Necaxa, and reportedly they had an offer recently from another Mexican club. If Cummings returns I expect another successful season from the C+C Goal Factory, and I hope Smith has figured out that he has to play both of them up front.

Macoumba Kandji - Acquired before the trading deadline for the inconsistent and ineffectual Mehdi Ballouchy, Kandji didn't show much in his limited playing time, but was an immediate improvement over Akpan and Amarikwa. In 7 regular season appearances he had 3 assists and 0 goals. Of course he'll always be remembered for his attack in overtime of MLS Cup where he crossed the ball that George John knocked in his own goal for the winning score int he Rapids championship. In the collision with Ugo Ihemelu that happened as he was making the cross Kandji blew out his ACL.

Due to the blown ACL anything we get out of Kandji in 2011 should be seen as a bonus. He won't even be close to 100% until the very end of the season.

Ross Schunk - Ross was the victim of ripping his ACL near the end of training camp this year. After losing a season of development and the additions of Akpan, Amarikwa, and Kandji there just wasn't room for him.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Cummings To England...Temporarily?

The Rapids and Omar Cummings have accepted an invitation for Omar to train with Aston Villa this winter. Right now everyone is saying that this is just some training and they are investigating the possibility of a short-term loan. According to Rapids Managing Director Jeff Plush, Cummings will be in Colorado for the season opener against Portland.

Reading between the lines I'm not as sure. The Rapids have reportedly been approached by a Mexican team this offseason about buying Cummings, and this is after Necaxa made an offer for him in the summer transfer window. Now we find out Aston Villa contacted Colorado about getting a closer look at Omar. I suspect that Aston Villa is thinking more long-term but they need a close-up look at Cummings before they reveal their cards. I wouldn't be shocked to see this turn into a permanent move.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Rapids News 12/21/2010

I was going to do the final part of the season review tonight, but a few pieces of Rapids news have pushed that to tomorrow (hopefully).
This will be the 4th of the last 5 January camps that Pickens has attended, but he has not yet been capped. Let's hope he gets at least that honor as with the depth at goalkeeper he's not looking at getting any serious playing time. Wallace will get a shot at the left back spot as there's nobody who's really claimed it yet. Wynne will probably be a sub somewhere on the back line at best but I don't see him as a starter yet. Larentowicz has the best chance of really making an impact as the team has been looking for somebody to partner Michael Bradley in the empty bucket formation, and Ginger Ninja partners Pablo in a similar formation in Colorado.
  • Jeff Plush talks about a likely jersey sponsor and a possible friendly against a German club.
I'm glad to hear that a sponsor sounds close. I'm hoping its the long-rumored Chipotle deal. I would love to see a German club in the Dick for a friendly. I much prefer watching the Bundesliga to La Liga or Serie A but I'm limited to what I can find on ESPN3.com. My sister and brother-in-law spent some time in Heidelberg this summer and brought me a TSG 1899 Hoffenheim scarf back so I've been following them this season. I'm crossing my fingers that we get a German friendly and I'm hoping it might be Hoffenheim. ;)
This report is from Tribal Football, so take it for what it's worth. If true I'm guessing he'll fill the need for depth at center back that Gary Smith has talked about. Think of him as this year's Julian Baudet.

And on a final note, Happy Birthday to my wife Hope. :)

Monday, December 20, 2010

Colorado Hosts Portland To Start 2011

MLS announced the home openers of every team today. The Rapids will host the expansion Portland Timbers in their first-ever MLS game on March 19th at 7pm. More importantly, this will (presumably) be the day that the Rapids raise their 2010 MLS Champions banner!

Through process of elimination we also know our second week opponent will be one of Seattle, San Jose, Chivas USA, Dallas, or Houston.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Season Review - Wide Midfielders

I'm hoping to finish these player reviews before Christmas, but with the schedule I have this up-coming week, we'll see if I get to the forwards or not.

Brian Mullan - Many people see the acquisition of Mullan as the turning point of the season. I'm not sure I'd go that far but it was critical. Not only did it exchange a injured player that wouldn't help us in 2010 for a player who could go straight into the starting XI, but it also allowed us to trade Ballouchy for Kandji, which became VERY critical in the overtime of MLS Cup. Biran had 4 rings and a wealth of experience when he returned to his hometown, and I was quite happy to see him get "one for the thumb". Mullan only played in 7 regular season games for the Rapids, picking up 2 assists, but the threat of his play allowed Jamie Smith more freedom on the left and gave Koz cover to make overlapping runs.

Mullan is the second oldest player on the roster right now, behind Pablo. Its a question mark how long he can be effective on the right. I don't see any reason to expect a fall-off next year based on his play for us in the latter part of the season. Its a safe bet though that he can't be expected to play in the league, Open Cup, and Champion's League games we have next year though, so we should expect to see him rotated out pretty frequently so that he's available for the home stretch. While he's in I just expect him to do more of the same.

Sanna Nyassi - An expansion draft day pick-up from Seattle (by way of Vancouver), Nyassi can be the relief a player like Mullan needs. He's young and raw, but has speed to spare. He started about half the games for Seattle in his second pro season last year, as well as being a regular in the lineup for their victorious U.S. Open Cup run. The highlight of the season was Scoring both goals in the Open Cup final. While I don't see Sanna being a regular starter for the Rapids, he'll probably be the first sub int he midfield if the team needs more attacking power.

Jamie Smith - In 2010 we finally got to see what a healthy Jamie Smith looks like and now we understand why Gary Smith signed him. He led the team with 8 assists. Combined with his one game-winning goal he was involved in more goals than anyone but the C+C Goal Factory upfront. While injuries were still an issue, they had less of an effect on him once he was on the field and kept him off the field for less time than in 2009. Jamie is the third member of the Rapids 30 and older club though, so we can't expect those injury concerns to go away, if anything they'll become a bigger problem.

The biggest thing for Smith in 2010 will be working with the young Wallace behind him. Anthony is still struggling with his positioning, especially after going forward to overlap Smith, so Jamie will have to make sure he covers for Wallace and holds up his end of the defensive duties. On the attacking side I hope he's able to establish himself as a threat to score goals as well as set him up. The more threats in the midfield we have the more space Casey and Cummings get to work with in front of them.

Wells Thompson - Wells came over in the trade with Larentowicz and everybody regarded him as the throw away player to balance out the trade. There weren't many expectations for him this season. I think that Thompson actually contributed more than was expected though. He was the "utility infielder" of the midfield, being plugged in when necessary to cover for injuries or to give people some rest but never really being a starter. I think he filled that role quite well without particularly standing out.

I think Thompson's role in 2011 will be very similar to 2010. Not a top 11 player but called to start on a regular basis, especially with the expanded schedule. I think he's a better defensive player than Smith, but not nearly the offensive player. I can see Nyassi and Thompson being regular subs depending on the game situation, Thompson when we're happy with the current scoreline and Nyassi when we feel like we need another goal.

Ciaran O'Brien - In 3 years he had 19 minutes, 1 red card, and 1 championship ring. One of the odder career stat lines. He clearly was never in Gary Smith's plans and the team isn't going to be hurt by losing him.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Season Review - Central Midfielders

With the dozen midfielders currently or recently departed from the Rapids roster I've split the review in two parts. Tonight we'll cover the more central players and save the wide players for next time.

Davy Armstrong - There's not much that can be said about Davy yet. Signed as our first homegrown player late in the season he didn't get any first-team time. The coaches and staff say great things about him though, and I'm looking forward to seeing him in the reserves and even maybe some first team action next year.

Ross LaBaeux - Ross was one of two draft picks to make the team this year and appeared in 5 games, making one start. His start didn't go well, clearly being overwhelmed with the pace and level of MLS play. His spot appearances late in games were much better, mainly because the game was rarely in doubt by the time he got in.

LaBaeux is going to face competition as a backup to Pablo and Ginger Ninja. Colorado just acquired Nane and Thompson can move centrally if needed. with the expanded rosters he probably doesn't have to worry about being cut, but we can expect to see most of his time spent in the reserve league next year.

Jeff Larentowicz - Better known to the fans as Ginger Ninja, acquiring Jeff made a big difference to the level and style of play this year. His addition allowed the team to play an "empty bucket" 4-4-2 with both Larentowicz and Pablo playing as holding midfielders, something the team tried to do in 2009 but largely failed to accomplish due to Ballouchy's inability to play the position. At the beginning of the season it was expected that Mastroeni's focus on being a defensive midfielder would allow Jeff to venture forward and help the attack, but it turned out the reverse was true. Pablo, feeling confident in the support from his new partner, was the one to push forward. Ninja focused on breaking up the opponent's attacks and being a free kick specialist. He scored 4 goals this year, but looking back it seemed like more because of how close he came on a number of free kicks.

Next season will be, hopefully, more of the same. At 27 years old he's just now reaching the peak of his career so we shouldn't expect any drop-off. I don't know if Pablo can keep his offensive contributions up, so you may see Jeff push forward more next season, but other than that I expect that the Rapids will build the team and their style around having Larentowicz in midfield for the next few years.

Pablo Mastroeni - He had his best year of his career in Colorado by far. He was named team MVP yesterday. I gave the nod on that award to Cummings, but I have no complaints about it going to Pablo. Getting a solid partner in Ginger Ninja allowed Mastroeni to open up his game and venture forward like never before. He had 3 goals this year which was 1 more than he had had in his 8 year Colorado career combined. He had 2 goals here and 2 goals in Miami before this season. With the exception of a momentary lapse in the home game against Columbus that earned him a red card (and should have earned the Crew player a red card as well) he was under control and was a leader on the field. Of course he capped the season off with his first ring, leading the team to the championship. A long overdue honor for one of the all-time MLS greats.

Pablo quickly squashed a rumor that he was considering retirement, publicly stating he had more soccer to play. He will return as team captain and I expect another great season from him. As I said above when discussing Larentowicz, the Rapids team and style will be build around this duo in midfield for the next couple of years. At 34 I'm guessing that the last two years of Mastroeni's current contract will be his last as a primary starter, but I saw nothing this season that leads me to believe he'll fall off a cliff next season. The team needs to start thinking about life after Pablo, but there's no need to make a move to replace him yet.

Joseph Nane - Nane was just acquired from Toronto in the last month. He's a young player that won't take a starting job from Larentowicz or Mastroeni, but i can see him being the first option off the bench to sub in for one of them. He played in 11 games, starting 8, for Toronto in his rookie season so its early to figure out exactly what type of player he's going to be. He'll be a regular starter in reserve games though, and should get some good experience there.

Claudio Lopez - Lopez was never the player we were hoping he would be. It was clear that while he still had the mind and the touch that's led to his storied career, his fitness has started to suffer with age. Reportedly he was a very positive presence int he locker room, working with the young players and bringing his vast experience (He's now won Cups in 4 different leagues) to the team. I would love to see the Rapids approach him about some sort of player/coach role, but I don't know if Claudio is ready to take that next step in his career.

Pete Vagenas - Passback Pete was acquired only as an excuse to move Baudet and Earls before the expansion draft. I don't think there was ever any intention of making him a member of the team.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Marshall Returns to The Rapids

In today's Re-Entry draft the Rapids selected Tyrone Marshall, who's option was not picked up by the Sounders. Marshall is a Jamaican defender who's been in the league since 1998. In fact, he was originally drafter by Colorado and played 1 game for them before being traded to Miami for David Vaudreuil (who, despite what the announcers like to claim about Brian Ching, was really the first MLS player born in Hawai'i). After Miami was contracted Marshall landed in LA for most of his career before a stop in Toronto on his way to Seattle.

Marshall will be a replacement for the depth we lost when we sent Earls and Baudet to Seattle. He shouldn't be considered a starter at this point, with our line of Kimura-Wynne-Moor-Wallace pretty well set, but he can compete with Palguta to be the first guy of the bench. Marshall is not yet signed to a contract though, this draft just gives the Rapids his rights to get him under contract, so there's a chance he won't make the team.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Season Review - Defenders

Continuing our review with the guys in the back.

Kosuke Kimura - A contender for the most improved player in 2010 and the clear winner for the most passionate player on the team. Koz did not get off to a good start this season, almost immediately being replaced in the starting xI when Wynne was acquired and having a string of average-to-poor games that really kept him from reclaiming the starting spot. Kimura didn't let this get him down though, and he continued to work and improve. When Baudet started having serious injury issues and Danny Earls was proving not to be the answer at left back, the door was open for Kimura to return to the starting lineup and he stepped through it. He had the biggest goal of his career (and one of the biggest in the team's history) in the Eastern Conference Final when cross turned into a shot and the only goal in the 1-0 win.

At this point Koz has the right back spot locked down. He can get up the line and into the attack when called on, but doesn't let his defensive assignments lapse. He might be the most pesky defender we have, as he'll challenge again and again until he wins the ball or is completely beaten. His biggest weakness is his distribution, even on a good day his passing is only average and he's not one that's likely to jump start an attack. Koz is the visible soul of the team on the field, pumping the crowd up and giving 100% every minute of every game.

Drew Moor - My vote for defensive MVP this year, Moor played every minute of every regular season game, every minute of every playoff game, and all but one half of the 2 USOC qualifiers. That's right, in 3300 minutes of competitive soccer for the Rapids this season, Drew Moor played 3255 minutes of it. He deserves every minute of his vacation. He had one goal, but it was a big one, scoring late in the home game against Columbus while the Rapids were playing down a man to give Colorado a 1-0 win.

Moor is a solid, quiet, center back. He doesn't make big plays very often because he doesn't need to. He knows his position and where he needs to be, and he simply does it. One thing I'd like him to do next year is become the leader of the backline. Our backline's ages right now are 26-24-26-21, so we need a calm organizer back there. Moor seems like the logical choice.

Scott Palguta - Palguta spent much of 2009 as the fill in starter, and probably expected to have that role coming into 2010. up until the day before the season started it looked like that would be the case, but the trade for Wynne just before the opening game changed the hierarchy. Palguta was now the 6th defender instead of the 5th. Scott only started 5 games and only appeared in about half the games and didn't play in the playoffs. Still he was there when called on, and with our recent moves he's moved back to that 5th spot. As long as he's satisfied being the first defender off the bench instead of starting, the Rapids should be happy to have him.

Anthony Wallace - One of the numerous late-season additions to the squad, once Wallace was up to speed he immediately found his place at left back. As the youngest player on the squad other than homegrown player Davy Armstrong he had to learn on the fly, and while he was inconsistent at times you could tell he was getting good lessons. His biggest difficulty seemed to be regaining his position after his forward runs. There were multiple times where players were able to get in behind him or were left without pressure to serve a ball into a box. The most dramatic example of this was the Dallas goal in MLS Cup.

The Rapids showed their commitment to Wallace on the day of the expansion draft, having already arranged a deal with Portland to have Anthony selected and traded back to Colorado in exchange for allocation money. I think it safe to say that he's expected to be the starting left back come March. In order to keep that spot he's going to need to improve his positioning and awareness to force the opposition back inside into the waiting arms of Drew Moor. He'll also be expected to contribute more to the offense, but that goal should be secondary to locking down the defense.

Marvell Wynne - Certainly the biggest surprise of the season, both his acquisition and subsequent play. Nobody saw Nick LaBrocca being traded for Marvell on the day before the season started, and the reaction form the Toronto fans was that he was a fast guy without a real good soccer brain. Well apparently Gary smith saw something they didn't. expected to be our right back he moved to center defender early on and excelled. He easily took Julian Baudet's starting job from him when Baudet was nicked up, and suddenly the Rapids had a central player who could push forward to support the attack while also being able to cover his defensive assignments. combined with Drew Moor they became one of the better central duos in the league.

Wynne just signed a new multi-year contract with the Rapids, so we should expect to see him starting for a long time. At 24 he still has things to learn, and right now his speed makes up for his lack of experience. sooner or later Wynne will need to improve his positioning and stop relying on his speed to get him out of trouble. For now though, he might be the fastest player int he league in a flat-out sprint and attackers are still surprised to find out that they don't really have him beat. That should keep things interesting for the near future.

Julian Baudet & Danny Earls - Both players put in good efforts for the Rapids this year. Earls was clearly surplus though once Wallace was acquired. Baudet would be nice to have for depth. The drawback to both of them, being international players, was too great to carry into the expansion draft though and they needed to be moved. This hurt us though, now we only have 5 defenders on the roster. There will be work to be done in the off-season to rebuild or depth in the back.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

A Different Type Of Season Review - Goalkeepers

Well, after a couple of weeks off to catch my breath after that great run (and get some non-soccer stuff in my life done) I'm back. Normally after the season I've done a season recap and a post about what I think the Rapids should do on a player-by-player basis. Things are a little different this year, obviously, with the MLS Cup win. While I'm sure I could find other grades than A to give to the various parts of the team, I still haven't come off my high from winning it all and I don't want to kill the buzz.

In the same way I think the player decisions this offseason are fairly obvious. There's maybe 2-3 players that i would consider making any moves with, the others are obvious keepers or didn't get enough playing time for me to judge. Instead I'm going to do a player-by-player season recap. I'll also include what I expect form the player coming up, but it won't be the same sort of review I've done in the past. Today we start with the goalkeepers.

Matt Pickens - Jesus was the undoubted number 1 this year, there was never even a hint of anyone else being the starter. Back spasms kept him out of the home game against Houston but he played every minute of the other 29 games and the 4 post-season matches. Pickens was the only keeper to have 2 post-season shutouts and was 3rd in shots faced this year. Of course his biggest save was in the 120th minute of MLS Cup when he appeared out of nowhere to stop what looked to be the tying goal from George John.

Matt is a solid if not flashy goalkeeper. That save in MLS Cup is the only really big save that stands out from the season, but at the same time I only remember one blunder from him all season too, the disaster at the end of the final regular season game against FSL. Pickens is just where he needs to be when he needs to be there most of the time. His big problems have been his injuries (back spasms and groin strains). I also don't expect him to jump start an offensive attack ever (unlike Tim Howard against Algeria), but that's as much about our style of play as Pickens. I seen no reason to make a change unless somebody like Brad Friedel falls into our laps. Certainly our time is best spent finding help elsewhere.

Ian Joyce - A 'Yank Abroad' that I'm not sure any American fans had heard of when the Rapids brought him home last offseason, Joyce had a quiet season. He was only called into action twice, once in a U.S. Open Cup qualifier and once in a league match. Oddly enough both games had the same 2-0 scoreline, once with the Rapids winning and once with them losing. The 3-0 loss to NY in the USOC was largely due to Drew moor having a horror of a game and leaving Joyce with no chances. In the Houston home game the Rapids were up 3-0 after 23 minutes and the Dynamo never really generated a serious threat.

Its hard to tell based on 2 games, but Joyce seems a capable backup. Assuming that Pickens returns at a similar level (and at age 29 you would expect that) we don't need a second number 1 keeper. We need a clear number 2 who can fill in when necessary. With the expanded rosters next year we can have a 3rd young keeper who's training to be our keeper of the future while still have a solid more experienced backup option. Joyce seems to fill that role. Plus it doesn't hurt that I won his jersey in the season-finale "Jersey Off Their Backs" promotion. ;)

Steward Ceus - Ceus is in his second year after being drafted by the Rapids in the 2009 Superdraft. Last year he spent much of the season with the USL-2 Charlotte Eagles, taking them to the USL-2 championship, and he expected to do the same this year. Unfortunately he broke his wrist soon after arriving in Charlotte and returned to Denver to spend the rest of the season in rehab. He did play in the first U.S. Open Cup qualifier for the Rapids, but that's the only significant game action he got with the team. Steward did get to spend time during the playoffs with the Haitian National Team in their pre-Digicel Caribbean Cup training camp in Brazil. He then got the start for all 3 of their second round group stage games before Haiti was eliminated.

I'll leave it up to the training staff that got to see him play this year to make the judgement. If the lost time due to the injury didn't set him back he seems like a young keeper that we could be training for the future. Haiti may not be a great team (especially now when there are so many more important issues in Haiti) but the fact that he's at least starting at times for them in competitive matches (the Digicel Cup is the Caribbean qualifier for the Gold Cup) is a positive sign.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Options on Lopez, Vagenas, and O'Brien declined

Yesterday Colorado chose not to pick up the options of Claudio Lopez, Ciaran O'Brien, and newly-acquired Pete Vagenas. None of these are a real surprise. O'Brien never saw the field under Gary Smith. Lopez always seemed like an odd pickup given the lack of playing time this year. Passback Pete was obviously just an excuse to unload a couple of internationals before the expansion draft.

Without boring you with all the details, what happens next is on Monday there will be a draft of all the players who's options weren't picked up or who are out of contract. Teams drafting players will be required to pick up the player's options at their current price. If the player is not selected, their current team has a week to negotiate a new lower salary before there's a second draft for teams to claim negotiating rights with the player. As the MLS champs the Rapids will have the 16th pick in both drafts, right before the two expansion teams.

Ciaran O'Brien has already tweeted that he's left Denver, so it seems he's been told that even if he's not selected the Rapids aren't interested in bringing him back at a lower number. If the Rapids could sign Lopez as a bench player for a lower number, it might be worth it. His veteran leadership and experience would be helpful for some of of our younger players. i don't know what the salary cap rules are for a player/coach, but Colorado might want to look into that. Vagenas is really surplus to our needs and probably should jut be let go.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Rapids Re-Sign Wynne

The Rapids announced yesterday that Wynne had signed a new multi-year contract with the team. He knew there was interest overseas but decided that he wanted to stay in Colorado. Wynne was reportedly the only major player on the team out of contract this year, so its good to have him re-signed early in the offseason so the Rapids know what they're working with.

Per MLS policy the terms of the deal were not announced. We'll get the salary number at the beginning of the season when the player union releases its salary list. Most MLS contracts are 4 year deals with the first 2 guaranteed and the last 2 being team-held options.