Wednesday, December 21, 2016

2017 Home Openers Announced!

As you can see in the picture, the league announced the home openers today.  The Rapids will start at home in their season opener on March 4th against New England.  That means its also Jameson Night (or Jameson afternoon in this case given the 4pm kickoff) at the tailgate.  We also know from the other home opener announcements that the following week the Rapids will be the opponent for RBNY's home opener on March 11th.

The full schedule will be released before next month's Superdraft on January 13th.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Rapids Pass In Both Drafts This Week

Colorado took nobody in yesterday's Waiver Draft (no team selected anyone) or in today's Re-Entry Draft Phase 1 (3 players were taken total, none of which were Conor Doyle).  This is not a big surprise, rarely are players taken in Phase 1 and the waiver draft this year was slim pickings.

The last major activity of 2016 is next Tuesday with the Re-Entry Draft Phase 2.  Between now and then the Rapids can negotiate a new contract with Conor Doyle if they want, then on Tuesday we can expect more players to be taken as there is more flexibility with contracts in Phase 2.  After that things will largely go quiet through the holidays until the combine starts on Jan. 7th and the Superdraft on Jan 13th

Also for the record here's the official confirmation of Pablo's new 3 year deal.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Players Staying, Going, and Coaching News

A lot of news today.  First, as expected, no Rapids were taken in today's expansion draft.  Given how much interest was shown in projected drafts for Jared Watts I'm going to go with my theory that the deals on Sunday with the expansion teams included an agreement that they wouldn't take any players from Colorado.  One ex-Rapid moved, briefly.  Atlanta took Clint Irwin and then immediately traded him back to Toronto for Mark Bloom (who was born in Georgia) and general allocation money.

EDIT: In a tweet tonight the Post's Daniel Boniface has confirmed there were deals in place with Minnesota and Atlanta to bypass Raids on the expansion draft.

After the expansion draft the Rapids announced that they traded Jermaine Jones' rights to LA for their natural first round pick in next month's Superdraft and a conditional second round pick in the 2018 draft.  If you remember in March we sent our natural first round pick to New England along with general allocation money to get Jones' rights.  So essentially getting him for a season cost us nothing except his salary.  Not a bad bit of business.

News also broke today that Pablo has re-signed for 3 years.  This is technically a rumor until its confirmed (probably tomorrow) but we're going to call it confirmed unless there's something drastically different in the official announcement.  As I wrote two weeks ago I'm ok with re-signing him, I'm just concerned about getting into a long term deal without knowing which Pablo is the real Pablo, 2014-15 or 2016.  There's no news on if this contract has any option years so I'm going to assume for now that its a standard 3 year contract like his last one.  Lets hope we don't have a repeat of the 2007-08 Clavijo years.  Though I suppose KSE extended Jeff Fisher for two years to start this season and fired him yesterday, so maybe they've learned their lesson about keeping a bad coach (Go Hawks!).

Monday, December 12, 2016

Roster News and Expansion Draft Protected List

Two big announcements today.  We got the list of re-signed and released players and we got the protected list for the expansion draft.  First the roster news.  Here's the current status of everyone (other than Juan Ramirez):

Players already under contract for 2017: K. Doyle, Gashi, Howard, Powers, Williams

Players who's option for 2017 was picked up today: Badji, Berner, Burch, Burling, Calvert, Castillo, Miller, Serna, Sjoberg

New long-term contracts signed today: Azira, Cronin, Hairston, MacMath, Watts

Options declined today: C. Doyle, Pappa, Pfeffer, St. Ledger

Out of contract: Jones, Le Toux

If you remember my roster write up from Saturday I had 11 players on the Keep list, 10 of which were confirmed to be signed for 2017 today.  Greenspan being traded yesterday prevented a clean sweep of my list.  I also had 6 players on my Keep But Look For An Upgrade list, all of which are now under contract for 2017.  I had 5 on my Trade/Sell list but it appears we're just releasing two of them, Pappa and Jones (though if Jones isn't selected in the expansion draft we'd still retain his rights).  We kept Powers, MacMath, and Ramirez and hopefully we get value for them.  All 3 names on my Cut list got cut (C. Doyle, Le Toux, St. Ledger), while one of my unknowns was kept (Castillo) and one was cut (Pfeffer).

The announcement did include that the team is in discussions with some of the cut players to bring them back under different contacts.  If I had to guess that would be Pfeffer and maybe Conor Doyle.

Overall we have 19 players under contract for 2017, though we can expect a couple of these players to not start the season on the roster through trades, sales, or cuts.  Its a solid core to build around and we can now focus on looking for difference makers to help the offense.

Also today the team released its  list  of protected players for tomorrow's Expansion Draft that will happen at noon MT.

Auto Protected Homegrown Players:
Caleb Calvert
Zach Pfeffer (despite being declining his option we retain his rights and he could be selected tomorrow)
Dillon Serna

Protected List:
Micheal Azira
Dominque Badji
Sam Cronin
Kevin Doyle
Shkelzen Gashi
Marlon Hairston
Tim Howard
Zac MacMath
Eric Miller
Dillon Powers
Axel Sjoberg

A couple of surprises on that list.  I picked 8 of the 11 correctly on Saturday but I had Burch,, Burling, and Watts protected over Badji, MacMath, and Miller.  MacMath is understandable if the team thinks there's more value in trading him than using him as the carrot to be the only Rapid picked tomorrow.  I'm surprised at Badji or Miller over Watts, a number of columnist have already identified Watts as one of the best possible pickups for Atlanta or Minnesota tomorrow.  Burch and Burling provide veteran leadership and I'm a little surprised to see Badji valued over them.  Miller at least plays a hard to fill position (left or right back) so there's some understanding there.

All that said, I still think the deals with both expansion teams yesterday included an understanding that nobody from the Rapids will be picked tomorrow.  If I'm wrong though then I think the most likely pick is either Watts or Pappa.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Trades And Homegrown News

So in the short trade window that was open this morning before Tuesday's expansion draft the Rapids made two trades.

Every team has 8 spots by default.  We have a permanent one from FSL in the Gregorio trade and send one to Vancouver through 2031 in the Nyassi trade so those cancel out.  We also have one from LA when we got Sarvas from them and one at the beginning of the year from SJ for allocation money.  The end date on those two trades haven't been announced.  So worst case those two expire and we're down one with today's trade, best case we're still up one after today's trade.  So somewhere between 7 and 9.  Right now we have 7 internationals on the roster (8 if Ramirez ever returns) and I don't expect all 7 to return next year so we're fine.  Badji, Castillo, and Williams could all be at risk of not returning and no chance St. Ledger comes back.  Even Kevin Doyle could not return.  The only two internationals I'm sure will return are Gashi and Sjoberg, and that assumes we don't sell Sjoberg to Sweden (I don't think we will, especially with today's second trade).
This one surprised me a bit as with the work the Rapids did with the Navy to get him training time I figured we would have had a longer commitment with him.  This also makes me believe that Watts or Burling is an expected starter alongside Sjoberg next year.  This was the only trade in MLS today that didn't involve Atlanta United in some way.

With these moves we now have 3 picks in next month's draft.  Our natural 1st, 2nd, and 3rd round picks have been traded for Jones, MacMath, and Conor Doyle respectively but we have our natural 4th round pick (#86) to go with the two we acquired today.

EDIT: So I forgot, we do have a 1st round pick in next month's draft. We get a conditional pick 1st round pick from TFC from the Irwin trade. It wasn't listed on the Wiki entry until after TFC's draft spot was determined (last night). I'm guessing the "conditional" aspect dictates if we get their natural pick (#21) or another of their 1st round picks should they trade for one.

I also have a sneaking suspicion that the deals with both expansion teams today included the understanding that they wouldn't take any Rapids players in Tuesday's expansion draft.  most people would say the 3rd round pick was not enough for Greenspan and even a 2nd round pick is a little light for 2 years of an international spot.  But if both trades included protection from expansion picks that evens them back up.

One other piece of news today, a Denver Post article about Denver University's junior center back Kortne Ford who says he's in talks with the Rapids.  Ford came through the Rapids academy and would be a homegrown player if he signs with the Rapids before going into the draft in 2018.  The article makes it sound like he's deciding between returning for his senior year at DU or going pro now.  These talks may have also influenced the decision to trade Greenspan if the Rapids were confident they were going to get Ford in for depth at center back.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

2016 Roster Review and Expansion Draft Prediction

Its been a little late coming but I'm finally getting around to my annual roster review.  Afterwards I'll also project who I think the Rapids will protect in next week's expansion draft.

This is my breakdown of what I think Colorado should do with each player, given the realities of MLS's player acquisition rules and current contract statuses (as best we know them).  I'll like the player's position and their 2016 base salary as well.

M Micheal Azira, 63K - Might be the best deal in the league at 63K.  Should have played more down the stretch
GK John Berner, 63K - He'll be needed to start thee season until Howard is healthy
F Caleb Calvert, 75K - Young and likes some of what we saw this year.  Also apparently retains his homegrown designation
M Sam Cronin, 225K - Surprisingly maybe the key to the team this year.  We saw how much it hurt not to have him in the final game
F Shkelzen Gashi, 1.575M  - Took a while to get settled but I think there's more to come
D Joe Greenspan, 51.5K - Young, looked good at times, no brainer to keep him
M Marlon Hairston, 90K - Probably took the biggest step forward of any player this year.  Can't wait to see him contribute more regularly next year
GK Tim Howard, 2.1M - Duh
M Dillon Serna, 66K - Equally duh.  Hopefully he bounces back from the ACL well
D Axel Sjoberg, 66K - Keep him and give him a raise
D Jared Watts, 68K - Another one that took a surprising step forward this year.  Still want him as a backup not as a starter though

Keep for now, be looking for an upgrade:
F Dominque Badji, 53.5K - Barring a huge step forward in his shooting ability he's nothing more than a later game speedy super sub.  Nice to have but if there's an option to improve by moving him we should.
D Marc Burch, 120K - I could see moving him into the keep list but that price tag is a bit high
D Bobby Burling, 110K - If Pablo sees him as a starter next to Axel then we can keep him.  If he's going to back up Watts though we can probably do better or get cheaper (or both)
F Kevin Doyle, 1.075M - I love his passion and his leadership, but we're just not getting enough out of him.  If we could bring him back at about a third of the price I'd be good keeping him.  He's going to be hard to replace though, unless we have an option on his contract.
D Eric Miller, 66.4K - Young, has potential, but looked really bad late in the season
D Mekeli Williams, 85K - Started hot but fell off as the season went on.  We can probably do better at outside back

M Jermaine Jones, 600K - Reports are he's already talking to LA.  Trade his rights there and move on
GK Zac MacMath, 140K - He deserves a chance to start some where and that's to much to pay for a backup GK
M Marco Pappa, 110K - Not a fit for Pablo's system
M Dillon Powers, 270K - He needs a fresh start somewhere else.  Maybe Blackburn?
M Juan Ramirez, 85K - He's done in Colorado, get what we can for him

F Conor Doyle, 66K - Did nothing this year
M Sebastien Le Toux, 300K - Way too much for way too little
D Sean St. Ledger, 192K - Literally did nothing this year

Unknown/Too Little Info:
D Dennis Castillo, 51.5K - Not enough playing time to really know
M Zach Pfeffer, 101K - Pfeffer retained his homegrown player designation so he's probably worth keeping but I haven't seen him all season so who knows

That leaves us 8 to replace and 6 to upgrade.  That's a bit much so we can expect that we won't upgrade every one of those players and somebody like Conor Doyle or Dillon Powers may hang around.

The first thing to be concerned about though is Tuesday's Expansion Draft.  Here are the basic rules:

  • Atlanta United and Minnesota United will each get 5 picks
  • No team can lose more than 1 player
  • Teams can protect 11 players, 3 of which must be internationals
  • Homegrown and Generation Adidas players are automatically protected on top of the 11
  • Anyone with a no-trade clause must be included in the 11 protected players
Given that, here's what I predict/suggest for our protected list:

Homegrown players:
  • Caleb Calvert
  • Zack Pfeffer
  • Dillon Serna
(Yes, Calvert and Pfeffer kept their homegrown designations after being acquired by Colorado, per MLS)

Possible Generation Adidas players:
  • Marlon Hairston
  • Eric Miller
The time when a player "graduates" from Generation Adidas is not made public so its possible neither, one, or both of these players will be auto-protected.  I've heard both things about Hairston so far.  We shouldn't use a slot on Miller if he's not protected but we should on Hairston.

  • Kevin Doyle - If we have any thought of bringing him back
  • Shkelzen Gashi - Probably has a no-trade clause but worth protecting anyway
  • Axel Sjoberg - Easy choice, he's a cornerstone of our defense
Remaining List:
  • Micheal Azira - Would be a steal for either team
  • Marc Burch - Worth keeping rather than letting go for nothing
  • Bobby Burling - See Marc Burch
  • Sam Cronin - Fairly obvious, a key piece of our midfield
  • Tim Howard - Probable no-trade clause plus we put way too much into him to take any risks
  • Dillon Powers - Worth too much to let him go for free
  • Jared Watts - Surprisingly I think he needs to be protected
  • Marlon Hairston - If not auto-protected, otherwise the coach's opinion of the player with the most potential out of Badji, Castillo, Greenspan, and Williams
The goal here is that leaving MacMath and Pappa unprotected entices Atlanta or Minnesota to pick one of them protecting the rest of the roster.  So my final combined list of protected players would be:

Azira, Burch, Burling, Calvert, Cronin, K.Doyle, Hairston, Howard, Gashi, Pfeffer, Powers, Serna, Sjoberg, Watts, and possibly one young player with potential.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Prediction Scoring

Let's look back to my 2016 predictions and see how I did (hint, not well):
  • Rapids finish with points in the low-40s and in 8th place in the West
  • The Rapids get less than 12 points in their first 9 games, leading to Pablo's removal as head coach sometime in that stretch.
  • Spencer takes over and rides the "new coach" bounce to a win over FSL in game 10
  • Colorado pulls an upset in the third Rocky Mountain Cup game in Sandy and retain the Cup for their first back-to-back RMC wins since '05-'06.
  • Pablo stays with the organization in another capacity (Academy?)
  • We win a USOC game, maybe two, but bow out before the competition gets really interesting
  • Howard shows up in July and immediately becomes the best keeper in MLS but its not what the team needs to make a playoff push
  • Gashi scores 11 to become team MVP and Golden Boot winner
  • Ramirez never returns to Colorado
  • The Rapids make one more notable signing (name player, not necessarily DP) this season
  • Spencer retains coaching position into 2017 even though results after taking over for Pablo don't really deserve it
  • Bravo keeps his job into next year
Yeah, I started out 0-5 before I nailed the USOC prediction.  We did win one game before getting eliminated.

Howard was arguably the best keeper in MLS but we didn't need him for a playoff push.  I'm taking half a point.

Gashi was the Golden Boot winner and 9 is close enough to 11 to count it as accurate.  He however was not team MVP so half a point.

Ramirez never returned, I got that right.

This prediction was before the Jones signing so I got that one.

Spencer never took over, miss.

Bravo still has his job, count it.

5 of 12 total overall.  Ugh.  At least almost all of them I missed because the Rapids were much better than I predicted.  That's the way I like to be wrong.

Monday, December 5, 2016

2016 Player of the Year

my 2016 Player of the Year is the Rapids Goalkeeper.  Yes, I'm splitting the award between Zac MacMath and Tim Howard.  Both played the same number of games (19 league games, including playoffs), they both led a league leading defense, and they both dealt with the tough situation of being the #1 at different times of the year.  It was the most consistent position on the team and that's largely because they are two of the more talented players on the team and handled their job with professionalism.  This could have easily "gone wrong" this year with MacMath pouting or Howard thinking he could take it easy coming back to MLS but neither one allowed the situation to get to them.

They were also named team MVP at the Rapids awards banquet, splitting the award.  I however am not copying the Rapids on this pick.  If you go back to the Voice of C38 podcast right before the playoffs I was interviewed at the tailgate and suggested that the Rapids GK should be team MVP. So the Rapids stole the idea from me, not the other way around. :D

Thursday, December 1, 2016

The First Big Offseason Decision - Pablo

As of now Pablo Mastroeni is essentially out of contract as Rapids Head Coach (I'm sure his contract probably runs to the end of the month or something but the games are over).  The first decision the Rapids Front Office has to make this offseason is obvious' Will Pablo return?

To review his head coaching tenure so far:

2014: 8W-8T-18L - 0.94 pts/game - 2nd worst in team history - Eliminated in USOC Round of 16 at home by Atlanta

2015: 9W-10T-15L - 1.09 pts/game - 4th worst in team history - Eliminated in USOC Round of 16 in Houston

2016: 15W-13T-6L - 1.71 pts/game - Best in team history - Eliminated in USOC Round of 16 in Dallas - Eliminated in Western Conference Final by Seattle

Overall: 32W-31T-39L - 1.24 pts/game - 5th best career record in team history

So it really breaks down into the Tale of Two Pablos.  2014-15 Pablo was arguably the worst coach in team history as that was the worst two year run in the 20 seasons of Rapids soccer.  2016 was arguably the 2nd best coach in team history (Smith got a MLS Cup which beats Pablo's best regular season).  So which one is the real Pablo?  Did he learn from the last two years and improve as a coach or was this year due to the added investment in players more than better coaching?

I don't know.  I see some improvement.  He's stabilized his starting XI as much as injuries and absences allow.  He's clearly got the locker room as these guys are playing for him and don't quit.  We're seeing some young players like Hairston and even Watts improve under his coaching.  Those are all positive signs.  On the flip side though I feel like his in-game coaching hasn't changed.  He's still late with subs and rarely uses all of them.  He's regularly out maneuvered by the opposing coach, especially in halftime adjustments.  I know his sideline antics bother some people (not me personally).

So, what should the Rapids do?  Here's my suggestion. Pablo should get a new contract either for 1 year or with a team option after the first year.

His expectation for 2017 should be to easily make the playoffs (not clinch one of the final 2 spots in the final 2 weeks). He doesn't have to repeat this year and be in the Shield fight but he can't regress to "typical" Rapids levels. A deep USOC or CCL run would also be helpful.  If he does that then he should go into 2018 knowing that, barring a catastrophic run like the end of 2014, he's not on the hot seat and 2019 is basically assured.

If he fails to make the playoffs in 2017 then the team should use their option and/or not renew his contract and find a new coach. If he makes the playoffs but in typical Rapids fashion "one of the last two spots on the final day or two of the regular season" then we'll have to analyze the season, look at the USOC and CCL play, and have another discussion.