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.

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