Friday, March 30, 2012

Colorado Tries To Bounce Back Against Chicago

Chicago Dog Week at the Class VI/Pid Army tailgate

After a long two weeks in the Northeast the Rapids are finally back at home on Sunday.  The Fire are in town and Colorado is trying to right the ship after a bad outing in NY.  Game time is 5pm and since its a themed tailgate (see above) the grills start and kegs open at 2pm.  If you can't make the game its on Altitude 2 locally and Galavision nationally.

Injury Report:
OUT:  MF Pablo Mastroeni (headache symptoms); MF Jamie Smith (R ACL tear); DF Anthony Wallace (L Achilles tear)
DOUBTFUL: FW Conor Casey (L Achilles tear)

A much better list than last week.  Freeman is off the injury report, Larentowicz is back from suspension, and Rivero has finally been registered.  Unfortunately Pablo is still suffering headaches and looks unlikely to be back until than the Seattle game in mid-April at the earliest.  Chicago is missing 2 players, including former Rapid Dan Gargan, so they're almost at full strength.  The starting XI seems fairly obvious this week:

Cascio - Cummings - Mullan
Castrillon - Larentowicz - Rivero
Zapata - Wynne - Moor - Kimura

Numerous articles out of Commerce City this week have talked about Rivero getting his first shot this week now that he's eligible, and given the play of Thompson and LaBauex last week it seems to be the obvious choice.  The other 10 have pretty much secured their starting spots at this point, at least until some of our long-term injured players like Casey and Smith are healthy.

Key To Look For: Rivero's work in the midfield.  The other 10 have started gelling but Rivero is the new variable this week.  If he can fit in and fill most of Pablo's role we'll be in good shape this game.  If the midfield falls apart like it did last game then it could be a bad sign for the season.

Prediction: 2-1 Rapids win.  Goals by Cummings and Castrillon.  Getting home is what the Rapids need right now, and they're going to take full advantage.  Cummings finally found the back of the net last week and I expect him to build on that.  With Rivero giving some more support in the midfield Castrillon will make something happen.  The new midfield combo will have its hiccups though, and that will allow the Fire to get a goal of their own.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Rapids Sign Kamani Hill/Pablo Update

As I expected when Emory was waived last week, Colorado added on of their trialists today.  Midfielder/forward Kamani Hill has been signed and will be available as soon as his ITC is received from Germany (don't worry, there's no spurned club to throw a wrench into this one).  Hill is a former U.S. National Team forward who got 2 caps in 2007.  He hasn't played regular first team soccer since about 2007 so I'm not expecting big things but h provides some needed attacking depth.  Ives reports that the Rapids got him through a lottery, which is the typical route for a returning National team player, but neither the MLS or Rapids press release says anything about a lottery.  Ives has been a bit hit and miss with his Rapids coverage in the past so take it for what its worth.  If he did go through a lottery it means that Colorado is ineligible for any other lotteries for returning non-allocation/DP Nats or unexpected college signings this season.

Also today we got an update on Mastroeni's post-concussion symptoms:
And while Pareja can now count on having midfielders Jeff Larentowicz and Martin Rivero available, he didn't sound optimisitic that captain Pablo Mastroeni would be ready to play. 
"Pablo is undergoing exams," Pareja said of his captain. "Our medical staff is observing him to make a determination of what amount of time Pablo needs to recover."
That's not positive news. I'm really starting to think that Pablo is going to be out long-term, if not forced into retirement, from these problems. The important thing though is that he does what he needs to do to take care of himself long-term. There's no reason for him to rush back for the team if it risks his health.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Rivero Finally Gets Clearance

As you can see above, FIFA has granted a provisional waiver to the USSF to register Martin Rivero as a Colorado Rapid.  This means he's now eligible to play in first team and reserve games.  FIFA had to do this because the Argentine FA has still not provided Rivero's International Transfer Certificate.  I think Rosario Central is still bitter that the Rapids swooped in and signed Rivero away from them while they couldn't pay him.

On a completely different note, its interesting that FIFA uses Colorado Rapids SC as the team name in official communication.  I didn't realize the SC was an official part of the name.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Colorado Gets Gored By New York

The Rapids got beat down in the Big Apple.  The game was over in 7 minutes and it wasn't undeserved.  A horrible performance from our midfield and the defense wasn't much better.  I'm not going to spend much time recapping the game, but lets take a look at the 5 goals.  To start the disaster, Ross LaBauex sent Henry free on Pickens with a great through ball.  too bad LaBauex plays for the Rapids and that was supposed to be a back pass.  On the second, Henry hit Cooper at the top of the box and Moor mad a comical slide that failed to do anything, which allowed Lurch to best Pickens on the far post.  Shortly after half Henry beat the offside trap on a free kick from Henry and Wynne's speed didn't let him compensate and once again Pickens was beat far post.  The Rapids finally got back into the match as Cummings hit a gorgeous bending long shot from 20 yards after Castrillon stole the ball from Marquez.  The hope was short lived as Lurch continued his return from the dead after the defense pretty much stopped trying, getting his second goal by being unmarked inside the 6 yard box.

My key to look for was the midfield.  It sucked, badly.  Castrillon did what he could but LaBauex was seriously overmatched and Thompson is a decent defensive sub but he can't contribute without more support.

Other Observations:
  • I said last week was a really bad game from the midfield, but I was wrong.  This was the really bad game.  The midfield could hold any kind of possession and even before the Red Bulls scored twice in the first 7 minutes it was going to be a long match.
  • Ross LaBaeux should have been subbed at halftime, if not in the first half.  He clearly wasn't up to the level of play.
  • The midfield got a bit better when Drew Moor, of all people, moved forward into the d-mid role.  If we ever have to do this again we should consider putting him in the midfield.
  • Cummings got a goal finally, which is great, but he still didn't seem sharp.
  • After the game Pareja took the blame, saying he made a mistake in the midfield.  Good to see that level of self-awareness and willingness to admit it already.
  • The referee had no knowledge of how to use the advantage rule.  both sides had good attacks called back for free kicks instead, and advantage played when it should have been a free kick.
  • That said, there's no excuse for Henry sprinting to midfield form the penalty area to get in the ref's face about a bad call when NY was up 3-0 late in the game.  MLS needs to do more to stop that.
  • Well next week we're finally back home, let's hope having Ginger Ninja back on home ground will produce a better result.
Player Of The Game: Tony Cascio.  In a game where the forwards were pretty much left to fend for themselves Casscio created a number of chances and moved the ball well.  Not bad for the rookie.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Undermanned Rapids Head For The Big Apple

New meaning to bridge over troubled water

Colorado is back in the Northeast on Sunday, just up the road from last week's game in Philly.  This will be the team's only look at New York this year, and it won't be a pretty one.  The midfield core is devastated by injury and suspension so there's a big challenge ahead of Pareja's team.  Game time is 2pm and this will be our only appearance on ESPN this year.

Injury Report:
OUT:  MF Pablo Mastroeni (headache symptoms); MF Jamie Smith (R ACL tear); DF Anthony Wallace (L Achilles tear)
DOUBTFUL: FW Conor Casey (L Achilles tear)
PROBABLE: DF Hunter Freeman (R ankle arthroscopy)

Disciplinary Report:
SUSPENDED: MF Jeff Larentowicz

Ineligible: MF Martin Rivero (missing International Transfer Certificate)

Rivero did travel to NY with the team with the hope that his ITC situation is resolved by Sunday afternoon, but I'm not holding my breath.  The Red Bulls are only missing 3 players so they're close to full strength.  The absence of Pablo and Ginger Ninja rips the guts out of our midfield and its a big question as to how the hole will be filled.  Here's my shot in the dark guess at the starting XI:

Cascio - Cummings - Mullan
Thompson- Castrillon - LaBauex
Zapata - Wynne - Moor - Kimura

We could also see Mullan pulled back and Akpan inserted up top, Rivero in the midfield if he's eligible, even Moor played a few minutes in the midfield this week in practice.  Whatever the lineup there's going to be lots of work to go around.

Key To Look For: Um, yeah, the midfield.  Obviously.

Prediction: 2-0 Rapids loss.  We saw some poor midfield play last week when we had our normal starting XI.  I don't see that improving this week with a makeshift middle 3.  Between Henry and Marquez NY will control this game from start to finish.  Sucks.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Pablo Dealing With Post-Concussion/Emory Released

Two pieces of news out of Commerce City today.
  • Mastroeni is experiencing post-concussion -like symptoms and has been held out of practice the last two days. 
Obviously this is not a good sign.  Kyle Martino reported during Sunday's game that Pablo felt he was one bad concussion away from retirement, and now he's having post-concussion symptoms 10 days after suffering a head knock against Columbus.  What's important now is that our captain get the rest and recovery time he needs to b e sure he's 100%, then he can worry about playing again.

There's been the feeling floating around that Mastroeni was getting close to retirement, and his contract is up at the end of the season.  With the news we've gotten this week I feel like 2012 will be his last year.  I'm sure Oscar Pareja will be more than happy to bring him on as a coach after retirement (Mastroeni spent this past offseason upgrading his USSF coaching license) as that's what Dallas did for him when he retired.

Get  better Pablo, if you're able to play there will always be a spot for you in Colorado.

  • Steven Emory was released today
This was a bit of a surprise, as he was released at the end of the 2011 season and then signed to a new contract.  I would assume that this is a move to clear some salary space for one of the trialists to join the team, otherwise there's really no need to make this move right now.  With Wallace on the season-ending injury list we had an open roster spot (and with Smith on the long-term IR we actually have two spots until Smith is healthy) so it wasn't a move for that reason.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Rivero And Reserves Update

The Rapids have now gotten FIFA involved in their roadblock of Rivero's International Transfer Certificate.  FIFA has given the Argentinian FA (and Rivero's old team Rosario Central) a deadline to deliver the ITC to US Soccer.  If they don't comply FIFA will provisionally clear Rivero to play for Colorado without it.  The deadline hasn't been made public but the Rapids seem optimistic that Rivero will be cleared to play it time for Sunday's game.

Today the reserve team had their second game of the short 10-game reserve season, hosting Dallas at the Dick. They ended up once again losing 1-0 on a late goal.  Along with trialists Edu and Kamani Hill they were joined by trialist Franco Donado, a Colombian holding midfielder who didn't get a chance to get into today's game.  Edu and Hill started the game and Academy player Dillon Serna got 17 minutes as well.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Colorado Steals 3 Points In Philly

Somehow the Rapids won a game they should have lost, easily.  Outplayed most of the match and down to 10 men for the last third of the game Colorado managed to hang on for a 2-1 win.  The first half was ugly soccer from the first whistle.  Literally.  Within the first minute Drew Moor tripped an onrushing Mwanga at the top of the box and should have had a foul called and a card issued.  Probably a red card, though a case could be made for a yellow.  Instead referee Geiger waved play on.  That set the tone for what turned out to be a physical match but despite the poor play the Rapids made it to the locker room with a scoreless draw.

In the second half Colorado started to control the game more.  Out of the 10 shots the Rapids had in the game, 8 of them came after the break.  Cummings got a shot off in the 54th minute, then broke free for a cross in the 56th.  Philly's GK MacMath tried to grab the cross as Mullan challenged him for the ball and he fumbled it right to a wide open Jamie Castrilon who put away the easy goal for a 1-0 lead.  The joy was short lived though.  After picking up a very orange yellow card just before halftime Larentowicz dove into another poorly thought tackle in the 58th minute, resulting in a red card for the Philly-raised midfielder.  The Union immediately tried to take advantage, pushing forward to search for an equalizer.  Surprisingly the next goal came from the side in burgundy as rookie Tony Cascio chased a long ball down the left sideline.  Union defender Chris Albright (who I met 12 years ago at LAX while he was en route to Sydney as part of the Olympic team, met Joey DiGimarino as well) slipped as he chased the ball town and Cascio was free for a 1 on 1 with the goalkeeper.  He got the keeper leaning left and slammed it to the keeper's right.  MacMath got a foot on it but couldn't keep it out of the net.  Suddenly the Rapids were up 2-0 despite being down a man.

5 minutes later the Union finally broke through the Colorado defense for the first goal against the team this season.  On a free kick the Rapids backline seemed to get confused as they all stepped forward while the Union attack went the other direction.  An unmarked Pajoy headed the ball right past Pickens, who was a bit slow to react, and suddenly it was hang on for dear life time.  Pajoy would get another great look right before the end of the 90 minutes but put his shot just above the corner of the goal and that's as close as the Union got.

My key to the game was the back 4 shutting down the Philly attack.  Their success was a mixed bag.  Moor in particular had a bad game, almost getting red carded in less than a minute, losing his mark on the Union goal, and generally not being sharp (though he had one amazing save right before half).  Wynne and Zapata had big plays though, and many of the problems the back line had was due to them being constantly under pressure due to poor midfield play.

Other Observations:
  • A really bad game from the midfield.  Ginger's red card was due to two badly timed tackles, the second in particular was a really poor choice.  Castrillon had the goal but was otherwise invisible.  Mastroeni didn't do anything bad but that wasn't enough to make up for a general sense of poor play from the whole unit.
  • One depressing note from the game on Pablo.  The commentators said he had told them he's one serious concussion from retirement.
  • Cummings still hasn't found his mojo.  He had a couple of good chances including one late that would have put the game away but couldn't get the chip on target.  He's still dangerous, but he needs to find the final piece of the puzzle.
  • Cascio is learning fast, but he's still a rookie.  Great goal but he has his poor moments as well.  Good to see him not taking any crap from the Union backline after the whistle though,
  • Geiger allowed a physical game, but called it consistently both ways.  He missed the call on Moor early but other than that did well.  That's back to back consistent games from the refs, which is nice to see.
  • Zapata had a great clearance off the line to preserve the win.
  • Kimura took a nasty fall (self-inflicted) onto his neck and then bounced up and kept playing.  It really takes a broken bone to stop him.
  • The commentators noted that last week Kimura was the first defender in league history to have 2 assists on opening day.
  • Pickens might have done better on the goal, but came up with some important stops.
  • The Rapids are 2-0-0 for only the second time in their history.  The first was last year.
  • They've also never lost in Philly.
Player Of The Game: Marvell Wynne.  He cleaned up for Drew Moor's poor game, making some crucial interceptions and tracking back with his speed.  This was a hard choice because nobody really stood out in a game we shouldn't have won.  Mullan and Pickens were also considered.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Formerly Green Rapids In Philly For St. Patrick's Day

Anyone else think we should be wearing green kits this weekend?

Colorado makes its first of numerous road trips to the Northeast this weekend, facing the Union on Sunday.  We'll also get our first look at NBC Sports Channel's coverage of MLS as they have the TV for this game.  That's on channel 79 (SD) or 689 (HD) on Comcast in the Denver area.  The kickoff is at 2pm and Class VI and Pid Army are hosting their first viewing party of the season at the Celtic Tavern downtown.

Injury Report:
OUT: FW Conor Casey (L Achilles tear); MF Jamie Smith (R ACL tear); DF Anthony Wallace (L Achilles tear)
PROBABLE: DF Hunter Freeman (R ankle arthroscopy); MF Pablo Mastroeni (head contusion)

Ineligible: MF Martin Rivero (missing International Transfer Certificate)

Some good news on the injury report as both Freeman and Pablo are expected to be available this week.  Unfortunately there are still administrative issues with getting Martin Rivero registered so we'll have to wait to see him next week (hopefully).  Philly has two players missing due to injury and two players with the U-23 Olympic team, including Freddy Adu.  My bet on our starting XI:

Cascio - Cummings - Mullan
Larentowicz - Castrillon - Mastroeni
Zapata - Wynne - Moor - Kimura

It worked last week so "I see no reason to expect a change.  Mastroeni was practicing at full speed with the team since Tuesday so he should be good to go.  The new guys didn't do anything last week that makes me think they'll be benched.

Key To Look For: The back 4.  Philly traded Sebastian Le Toux who was most of their offense last season and their game in Portland on Monday didn't make it appear they successfully replaced him.  If the back 4 can shut down the Union forwards then Philly will have a very hard time scoring.

Prediction: 1-0 Rapids win, goal by Larentowicz.  I'm not sure where the Union offense is going to come from and our back 4 are looking pretty solid early.  Ginger Ninja is going home for this game, where we've never lost.  He slams in the game-winner off a free kick and the Rapids start 2-0-0 with 2 shutouts.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Reserves Update

Colorado's reserves traveled to Houston yesterday for a game this morning.  I don't cover reserve games very much here, mainly because the focus of the reserves isn't winning games so much as getting players ready for the first team.  in this case the Rapids lost 1-0 on a late goal, but the reason I mention the game is that Edu got the start for the team.  Apparently the coaching staff is still interested in him.  There was also news today that former U.S. international forward Kamani Hill and former FC Dallas midfielder Scott Jones are in camp.

For the last 5+ years Hill has been with Wolfburg in Germany and Aves in Portugal, but he's only played 20 games with their first teams.  He's also had 3 caps for the U.S. National Team.  Jones was with Dallas for one season in 2007, playing no first-team games, and has since been with the USL Puerto Rico Islanders.  He's also played with the Puerto Rico National Team.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Moor Of That Please!

That is how you start a season!  The boys in burgundy controlled the game and kept attacking and were rewarded with a 2-0 win.  A stat indicative of the Rapids dominance is attempts on goal, with Colorado having 17 to Columbus' 5.  The biggest negative to the match was the home side's inability to convert those attempts to shots on target, only getting 5 accurate strikes off (compared to Columbus' 3).

The first 30-35 minutes of the game looked much like last season (from both teams).  The Rapids left too much space between the defense and midfield which made it difficult to play out of the back and we saw the long balls up to the forwards.  After that though Colorado seemed to get it together and control the game more.  right before half they got the first goal of the season.  The Crew keeper fumbled an easy ball over the endline for a corner.  The initial cross from the corner was cleared but right to Kimura.  Koz crossed it back in and found an unmarked Drew Moor inside the 6-yard box.  An easy put-away for the MLS Ironman who ran to the sideline to celebrate Oscar Pareja's first goal as a head coach.

The second half started like the first half ended, with the Rapids controlling play.  Unfortunately the Rapids backslid as the half went on, losing some of their attacking focus and pulling back into the 1-goal lead defensive shell we've seen far too often the last couple of years.  Columbus almost made them pay with their only real good shot of the game in the 78th minute, a header that looked like it was going in until Pickens stretch just enough to tip it into the crossbar and over for a corner kick.  That seemed to be the wake-up call the team needed as they re-took control for the last 10+ minutes, finished off by a Goal of the Week candidate from Qunicy Amairkwa in the 89th minute to put Colorado up 2-0.

Other Observations:

  • Great first win for Pareja.  You can tell how excited he was by the way he was cheering in front of the fans after the game. :)
  • Other than the one save off the bar Pickens made the only other times he had to do anything were a worm burner that might have hit the post or just missed it on either side and a shot from midfield that he had easily.  Solid defense from the Rapids.
  • Cascio looked like a rookie that could be as good as I hoped.  He had a great chance to one-time a shot on goal but thought he had time to set it up for the perfect shot, only to learn how much faster MLS is than the NCAA.  While he'll probably move back to the bench when Casey's healthy he'll be pushing for that 3rd forward spot next to Casey and Cummings soon.
  • Castrillon and Zapata were solid but quiet.  That's better than we've done at other times though so a good first step.
  • Kimura is tied with Dallas' Blas Perez for the league assist lead with 2.  I'm not sure he really deserved an assist on Qunicy's goal, Amarikwa did most of the work, but good for him!
  • Wynne certainly didn't lose any speed in the offseason!
  • I've called Amarikwa the "coked out hamster" recently, but if he can continue to play how he did on Saturday I'll have to stop using that.  He had his bad moments but his goal was class and he forced another good save before that.
  • The one dark cloud was Pablo being subbed out due to another head knock.  His 2011 ended with a concussion and he left the 3rd place match in Hawai'i after a head knock.  Let's hope the trainers are just playing it save and we're not seeing another Taylor Twellman or Sidney Crosby situation.
  • Cummings was very active, but had a hard time getting shots on target.  hopefully the activity is a positive sign but Omar really needs to find the scoring touch again.
  • Great work on the huge Colorado flag by the Pid Army!
Player Of The Game: Drew Moor, and not because he got the winning goal (though that obviously helped ;)).  Moor was in the right place on multiple occasions to break up a promising Crew attack and keep their forwards frustrated.  Combined with his dangerous positioning on Rapids free kicks he stood out over Kimura, Cummings, and Amarikwa.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Lets Get This Party Started!!!

(Yeah, I can't help myself.  A Crew game requires a LEGO Village People picture)

It's finally time to get the season started!  Tomorrow the Rapids host the Crew to kick off Oscar Pareja's coaching career.  Game time tomorrow is 4pm, the first game (along with Vancouver-Montreal kicking simultaneously) of the whole MLS season.  As always Class VI and Pid Army will be hosting a tailgate ahead of time in the West VIP lost.  Tomorrow we start at 1pm and are including a baked potato bar.  For those of you who can't make it the game will be on Altitude.

Injury Report:
OUT: FW Conor Casey (L Achilles tear); MF Jamie Smith (R ACL tear); DF Anthony Wallace (L Achilles tear)
DOUBTFUL: DF Hunter Freeman (R ankle arthroscopy)

Ineligible: MF Martin Rivero (missing International Transfer Certificate)

The injury report is no real surprise given the news we've seen this preseason.  Players are required to have their International Transfer Certificate on file with the federation they're playing for and unfortunately the Argentinian FA has not transferred Rivero's to the U.S. yet so he is ineligible to play this week.  The Crew are also missing 5 players, all due to injury.  My guess on the first starting XI pf Pareja's career:

Cascio - Cummings - Mullan
Larentowicz - Castrillon - Mastroeni
Zapata - Wynne - Moor - Kimura

This has been the pretty regular starting group over the last couple of friendlies.  With Rivero ineligible I'd be pretty surprised to see any other lineup.

Key To Look For: New coach, new formation, new players.  At this point I'm just hoping everyone is on the same page and working on doing the same thing.

Prediction: 1-0 Rapids win, goal by Castrillon.  Without Casey and with players still settling into the 4-3-3 I'm not expecting many offensive fireworks.  There's too much talent out there for the Rapids not to get on the board though.  The defense is still pretty much the group that shut out Columbus in the playoffs last year and the only change made them better IMO so I can see another shutout.  Pareja gets his career started with 3 points.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

New Trialist and Season Preview

A surprise announcement from Commerce City today as Brazilian Luis Eduardo Schmidt, aka Edu, has started a trial with the team.  He contacted the Rapids about a trial, as opposed to the usual other way around.  He's a 33 year old midfielder/forward with 15 years of experience in Brazil and Spain.  He has 63 goals in 253 La Liga appearances over 9 years.  Edu spent 2000-2009 in Spain with Celta and Real Betis before returning to Brazil.  He's been fighting injuries the last 3 years, making only 30 appearances total in Brazil, and is obviously looking to jump start his career in MLS.

The Rapids are currently maxed out on players and international spots, but a player on IR doesn't count towards either.  Since the earliest Jamie Smith is expected to be available is late May he'll probably start the season on IR which would open an international slot.  Any player signed would still have to fit under the salary cap though.

From that unexpected news to the promised second half of my season preview.  On Monday we reviewed the depth at each position and probable lineup.  Today we'll tack a bit about the biggest change in the team, the coaching staff.

Obviously there's a world of difference between Gary Smith's 4-4-2 and Oscar Pareja's planned 4-3-3 formation.  Smith's style was very direct grind-it-out play while Pareja is going for a more possession and short passing game. To me the biggest surprise is how few changes Pareja has made so far.  The team that takes the field on Saturday will probably have 8 players that started the season opener last year (and MLS Cup 2010).  The added players are likely to be Zapata at left back, Castrillon in the center of the midfield, and rookie Tony Cascio up front.  Despite the limited number of changes we'll probably see a completely different style of soccer at the Dick in less than 72 hours.  Out will be the long balls to the forwards and the kick it and run style.  Instead you'll see a team focused on patient build-up and keeping control of the ball.

This is a great plan to play at altitude, making the opposition that's not used to the lack of oxygen chase the ball as much as possible.  How well we pull it off though will be the issue.  I'm not sure we're going to be as successful at it as we're all hoping, at least right away.  I still have major concerns about goal scoring, at least until Casey can prove he's back to his old self, and the 3-man central midfield will leave a lot of work for the wings to do and their ability to do that seems to be a big question mark.  I think that long-term this is a great step for the team to be making, but I'm not expecting big things from their 2012 season as they adapt to this new mentality.

So my predictions for this year:

  • The Rapids struggle to hold on to a playoff place all season and miss out on the playoffs in the last couple of games of the season.  The struggle to adapt to the new style early in the season will cost us just enough points to finish 6th in the West and just outside the postseason.
  • Due to the unfavorable schedule of two games in Utah before FSL comes to Colorado for the final game the Rapids will lose the Rocky Mountain Cup again.
  • Colorado makes a deeper than expected run in the U.S. Open Cup before losing on the road in the semifinals to another MLS team.
  • Cascio will be the best rookie the Rapids have seen since Hunter Freeman in 2005.
  • Casey comes back just as strong as before and gets at least 10 goals.
  • Late in the year, but before the final game, Pablo announces his retirement.
So, what do you see happening?

Monday, March 5, 2012

Wallace Out For The Season

Bad news out of Commerce City today as Anthony Wallace ripped his Achilles in training yesterday and he'll miss 6-9 months.  That means if he takes exactly 6 months and no longer he can get back for the final 7 games.  Realistically he'll be back closer to the final 2 games, at which point hopefully the Rapids will be in their playoff push.  If that's the case odds are they aren't going to want to upset the apple cart re-integrating Wallace into the team.  I think the only way we see Wallace on the field for Colorado this year is if the Rapids are out of the playoff hunt and he gets some time in the last few games to get some minutes in.

That segues into my planned topic for tonight, the first half of the season preview.  I was going to go over the roster by position tonight then do a wrap-up and prediction post midweek before my game preview on Friday.

No changes at all this offesason between the pipes.  Pickens is still the #1, Ceus is the #2, and Joyce is the #3.  The real question will be which Pickens do we get.  The one from the first half of 2011 and earlier or the one from the second half of 2011.  The latter part of the year Pickens seemed to lose a step in his positioning and reaction time.  Maybe it was just the number of games or maybe he's on the backside of his career.  Even with that he was still a solid MLS keeper but he was less likely to "stand on his head" to win us a game we were unlikely to win.  Ceus has shown himself to be a capable keeper but nothing special so far.  Joyce is unlikely to see the field in anything outside a friendly or reserve game.

We lost 3 defenders (Comminges, Earls, Holody) and signed two (Freeman, Zapata).
Right Back: Kimura, Ababio
Center Back: Moor, Wynne, Marshall, Palguta
Left Back: Zapata, Freeman, Wallace

Its pretty obvious that left back was an area of concern this offseason as both new players play that position.  As we see with the Wallace news its good that we added that depth as we're going to need it.  We saw last year that Palguta, Moor, and Wynne can also play outside and Ababio has gotten time in the center this preseason so there's some real flexibility in this group which will come in handy if injuries mount up.  Kimura, Moor, and Wynne have been the starting group along the backline for a couple of seasons and they play well when they're in their natural positions with a solid left back.  They struggled when Moor was moved around last year and they lost the familiarity with the lineup.  Hopefully with Zapata and Freeman this group can stay in their natual positions and play to their strengths.

We lost 2 midfielders (Kandji, Nyassi) and signed 4 (Cascio, Castrillon, Rivero, Yamada).
Left Mid:  Cascio, Smith, Thompson
Center Mid: Castrillon, Larentowicz, Mastroeni, Rivero, Armstrong, Emory, Janniere, Nane, Yamada
Right Mid: Mullan, LaBauex

Its kind of hard slotting the midfielders into specific spots.  That's roughly where they would have ended up in last year's 4-4-2 but in this year's 4-3-3 you'll probably see players like Mullan, Smith, and Cascio playing in the front line even though they're listed as midfielders.  This was the area of biggest change this offseason and probably the critical area for success in Colorado this year.  From what we're seeing in preseason we're going to play 3 central midfielders in Larentowicz, Castrillon, and Mastroeni and expect the outside forwards to handle the wings.  How these 3 are able to link up with the front line is going to decide this season.  If the Rapids are forced to go back to playing long ball it will be a long summer, but if this new passing attack can create chances up front we'll see excitement never seen before at the Dick.

Behind the starting 3 there's plenty of depth but most of it is untested.  Only Thompson has significant minutes in MLS and those haven't been particularly impressive.  Rivero is expected to have somewhat of an impact this year but primarily I think they're grooming him to take over Mastroeni's role next season.  Yamada had some good ball movement in Hawaii but he's going to have to work to get playing time.  The rest of the group got limited minutes last year and that probably won't change much this season.  One question that we won't see answered until midyear is where Smith fits into the system.  with his ACL tear I expect it will be June before he's ready to get significant playing time.

We lost 1 forward (Folan) and signed none.
Forwards: Casey, Cummings, Akpan, Amarikwa

On paper both the strongest and weakest group on the team.  There may not be a better strike duo in MLS when Casey and Cummings are healthy, but if their not there isn't much  backing them up.  Akpan and Amarikwa have yet to show they can carry a team's offensive needs.  In the new 4-3-3 we'll probably see a wide midfielder like Mullan or Cascio (or possibly Smith) take the third spot next to the C + C Goal Factory.

Casey won't be healthy until April though, so I wouldn't be shocked to see the rookie Cascio starting on opening day alongside Mullan and Cummings.  Without a holding forward like Casey they're going to be depending on the midfield to get them the ball in a dangerous location.  If Casey can return to form though, look out, this formation could really play to his strength as he holds the ball in the box and is able to either pass to an oncoming forward on either side or turn and shoot if those forwards draw off defenders.

If Casey and Cummings aren't healthy or suffer significant injury the team will have to make a move IMO.  Last year showed that the AA Battery isn't ready to power the offense and I don't think pushing midfielders forward will do it either.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

One Last Friendly To End the Preseason

The Colorado Rapids faced the Colorado School Of Mines yesterday at the Dick in one last preseason friendly before Saturday's season opener.  Not surprisingly the side in burgundy didn't find much of a challenge against a Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference school, winning 4-0.  Here's the starting XI:

Cascio - Cummings - Rivero
Larentowicz - Castrillon - Mastroeni
Zapata - Marshall - Wynne - Kimura

Amarikwa for Cummings at half
Mullan for Rivero at 58
Thompson for Cascio at 63
Akpan for Castrillon at 68
Palguta for Wynne at 70
Yamada for Larentowicz at 75

The only regular not to play was Moor, who I'm guessing got the day off to rest his tweaked hamstring.  I would expect him to be ready for Saturday in Marshall's place, and I would also expect to see Mullan starting where Rivero started in this game.

Cascio had the first 2 goals and Castrillon had the last 2 along with an assist on one of Cascio's.  Cummings had an assist on one of each of their goals, while Mullan and Thompson got the assists on Castrillon's last goal.    You have to like seeing the confidence from our new players and with the amount of playing time he's getting with the first team I expect Cascio to get the start in his first ever pro game on Saturday.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Final Roster Set

Earlier today draftee Joel Helmick tweeted this:
Thank you @ColoradoRapids for the great opportunity. Made some friends and learned a lot. Hope to return sometime in the future.
From this I think its safe to say that the Rapids didn't extend him a contract.  Not really a surprise since he was our pick in the final round of the Supplemental Draft and we already had 3 keepers under contract.  That's a big hill to climb.  He was the last unsigned player in camp so we now know the full 30 man roster we're starting the season with.  Colorado, surprisingly, only made 6 moves this offseason, plus re-signing Mullan and Emory to new contracts.
  • Danny Earls out, Luis Zapata in - Pretty much a straight swap of an international left back for an international left back.  Zapata is a probable starter for the opener next weekend, which Earls was not going to be, so it appears at first glance to be an upgrade.
  • Miguel Comminges out, Hunter Freeman in - Another left back swap, but this time we dropped an international for a domestic player.  When Freeman gets healthy he'll push Zapata for that starting spot much like Comminges would have done, but probably for a cheaper price.
  • Sanna Nyassi out, Tony Cascio in - A winger for a winger swap.  Nyassi was a casualty of the expansion draft rules and I'm sure the Rapids would have wanted to keep him if they could.  Cascio showed some good skill in Hawaii though so he may not be a bad replacement.
  • Caleb Folan out, Jamie Castrillon in - Not really a straight position for position swap, but they're both attacking players that are expected to carry a good part of the load this season.
  • Macoumba Kandji out, Martin Rivero in - Again not a true position swap but Kandji was sort of a super sub once he got healthy last year, and that's kind of what I'm expecting from Rivero this year.
  • Michael Holody out, Kohei Yamada in - Two players that don't really have much in common other than being young projects.
A unexpected low number of changes for a team with a new coaching staff and new leader at the top.  The stability, especially in the core starters, should help as we adjust to the new formation.  I'll have a full season preview sometime in the next few days.

Here's the final roster:

* = Requires an international slot

Steward Ceus
Ian Joyce
Matt Pickens

Eddie Ababio
Hunter Freeman
Kosuke Kimura
Tyrone Marshall
Drew Moor
Scott Palguta
Anthony Wallace
Marvell Wynne
Luis Eduardo Zapata*

Davy Armstrong
Tony Cascio
Jaime Castrillon*
Steven Emory
Josh Janniere*
Ross LaBauex
Jeff Larentowicz
Pablo Mastroeni
Brian Mullan
Joseph Nane
Martin Rivero*
Jamie Smith*
Wells Thompson
Kohei Yamada*

Andre Akpan
Quincy Amarikwa
Conor Casey
Omar Cummings

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Rapids Live On Altitude...Most Of The Time

Colorado announced its TV plans today, and once again their on Altitude.  Not a surprise since KSE owns both the Rapids and Altitude TV.  28 games will air live on Altitude.  One game, April 1st, will be live on Altitude2 which is only available in SD on Comcast.  April 1st is a home game against the Fire though so I'll be seeing it live in person. ;)  3 games will air live on NBC Sports Channel and 1 game will be live on ESPN (later rebroadcast by Altitude).

That adds up to 33 of the 34 games this season.  The missing game?  April 7th @ FaKe SaLt LaKe.  At the same time as that game the Nuggets and Avs are also playing and being shown on Altitude and Altitude2.  The Rapids game will be shown tape-delayed on Altitude.  For a normal game I'd roll with that, but a Rocky Mountain Cup match against FSL?  That sucks.  Luckily I've heard that the Rapids are working on a number of options to make the match available live to fans.  I'm guessing this will be a viewing party with a direct feed somewhere in Denver and/or a lifting of the normal blackout restrictions on MLS Direct Kick and MLS Live. We'll see what they come up with.

The on-air talent this year will be Todd Romero doing play-by-play and Marcelo Balboa once again doing color.  Romero has no play-by-play experience outside of World Wrestling Entertainment, so I have my concerns that we're going to have yet another season of Balboa having to explain the game to his partner instead of having two experienced people calling the game.  This is particularly annoying since I know two play-by-play broadcasters with MLS experience contacted Colorado about doing games this year only to be passed over for a new guy.

On the bright side though, we get 32 of 34 games live in HD.