Last season started out… rough to say the least. The Colorado Rapids went 0-9-2 in their first 11 games. Head Coach Anthony Hudson was fired nine games and after adding two more losses, interim head coach and club legend Conor Casey started to turn the ship around. The club went from averaging nearly three goals per game to a seven-game unbeaten streak. Once permanent Head Coach Robin Fraser was hired, the club won five of their last seven games, allowing just six goals total.
It’s pretty incredible that a club that started the season with two points in 11 games came this close to making the playoffs. In the end, they just didn’t make it, but ended the 2019 feeling very hopeful about 2020.
Tactics & Key Players
Robin Fraser likes to adapt to his opponent, which means we saw multiple formations in the few games he was in charge of last season. When he was first hired, Fraser said that things were going well so he was just planning to make minor tweaks and changes. He planned to build upon and strengthen the defense that pulled it together once Lalas Abubakar came and Casey took over, but also take advantage of the counterattack.
Fraser was recently interviewed for The Athletic and went into great detail about how he wants to play in 2020. His tactical plan revolves around manipulating the other team and gaining a numerical advantage on the attack. Fraser plans to be a team that builds possession from the back and he really likes the 4-3-3 formation that allows them to take advantage of the speed on the wings.
Goalkeepers: With Tim Howard gone, Clint Irwin is the clear starter for 2020. Andre Rawls, who spent 2019 with the Colorado Springs Switchbacks, the Rapids’ USL affiliate. Seventeen-year-old DA product Abraham Rodriguez, who appeared in 16 matches for the Colorado Springs Switchbacks last season, is with the club in preseason.
Defenders: The Rapids’ FO brought in Auston Trusty from Philadelphia and paired with Lalas Abubakar, the centerback duo seems to be set. Centerback Kortne Ford is finally back after being injured off and on for the last two seasons and the Rapids also re-signed Drew Moor from Toronto FC to offer depth in the position. Keegan Rosenberry didn’t miss a single minute last season at right back and Sam Vines is a lock at left back.
Midfielders: There isn’t much of a change in the Rapids midfield heading into 2020. Jack Price will hold it down as a defensive midfielder, and while Kellyn Acosta hasn’t been particularly impressive, there aren’t many other options. Nicolas Mezquida was used as a super sub last season, and I don’t anticipate that young Homegrown Cole Bassett will get many more starts this year than last year (11). The big news here is the DP signing of attacking midfielder Younes Namli. The 25-year-old has spent time with Dutch Eredivisie clubs HC Heerenveen and PEC Zwolle, and most recently played for FC Krasnodar in the Russian Premier League, who finished second place in the domestic standings. It’s anyone’s guess as to how he will do this year.
Wingers: MLS’ 2019 Rookie of the Year Andre Shinyashiki is an exciting option on the left wing and he had seven goals and three assists last year. He will likely feature as a sub, though, since the Rapids signed French winger Nicolas Benezet. Benezet scored two goals in eight games for Toronto FC, but played an important role in their offseason.
On the right side, I would expect Sam Nicholson and up-and-coming USMNT player Jonathan Lewis to compete for the starting spot, but Nicholson has the edge as the regular starter last year. Nicholson has speed, but struggles with finishing at times, and once Argentinian winger Braian Galván comes in the summer (sooner if the club can get him here), I expect Galvan to get the start. As a 19-year-old with no experience in MLS, he’s another wildcard.
Forwards: For years, scoring has been a glaring issue for the Rapids, but that’s one problem the Burgundy Boys didn’t have last year. They tied for second in the Western Conference for goals scored and had two players in the double digits for the first time in years. Leading scoring was Kei Kamara—always an aerial threat—and Diego Rubio. It took Rubio a few games to get into a rhythm, but he became dangerous near the goal because he could create his own chances or put himself in the right spot to poach.
The Rapids biggest changes were on the field. Regardless of how we felt about Tim Howard’s play in the last two years, he was an important leader in the locker room. It will be interesting to see which veterans step up to fill his shoes.
By all accounts, the Rapids are expecting to be a playoff team in 2020. That being said, there are a few unproven players in important positions that make it difficult to predict who might stand out. What I can tell you is that I expect a strong defense and they are going to score goals.
Where are those goals going to come from? While Kei Kamara is pretty reliable for double-digit goals, he’s getting older and the Rapids are trending towards younger players, so we may see Rubio getting the start. Even though we don’t know what to expect from Namli, as a true 10, he’s sure to be involved in plays and potentially rack up points for passes.