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?

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