The 2017 Major League Soccer season is set to begin in less than a month, and the Colorado Rapids are preparing to once again be a contender for the MLS Cup. The Rapids will try to build off the success they had last year, when they finished second in the league in points and reached the Western Conference Championship.
A familiar face was added to the Rapids coaching staff this offseason that will immediately boost the offensive production. Connor Casey was named assistant coach on Jan. 26 and will bring a spark to the forwards right away. Casey, the leading goal scorer in Rapids history, led the 2010 Rapids to an MLS cup.
The Rapids were second to last in goals scored in 2016, with only the San Jose Earthquakes scoring fewer goals. Kevin Doyle and Dominique Badji will have to improve their game to keep the Rapids competitive in a Western Conference that is filled with talent.
The defense for the Rapids will likely stay the same this year. Head coach Pablo Mastroeni will probably play four in the back, with Axel Sjoberg and Jared Watts running the center, Marc Burch on the left and Eric Miller on the right. It will be important for the defense to stay cohesive, and for the team to maintain that great backline that brought them success last year.
Some players are not on the roster this year, and yes, it will change the dynamic of this team. Jermaine Jones played a huge role in the Rapids turn around last year. He is now a member of the Los Angeles Galaxy. Jermaine leaves a hole in the midfield, but that hole should be filled by Michael Azira or Dillon Powers. Azira and Powers are both extremely tough on the ball and will fill the void quite well.
Marco Pappa is another player who is no longer with the Rapids. Pappa played that number ten role that controlled the offensive midfield, and would attack with the forwards. Although Pappa did not play very much at the end of the year, he was a big part of the Rapids success last year.
That number ten role will now likely be played by the Rapids most talented player: Shkelzen Gashi. Gashi was the key piece the Rapids needed to get over that hump and get into the playoffs again. Gashi’s footwork is excellent and his long distance shot is accurate and powerful. Check out the goal that won him the MLS Goal of the Year last year and see for yourself.
The Rapids have all the weapons they need to get to the promise land. Tim Howard brings that veteran leadership and is a wall in goal. The defense is big in the back and can come out and help on the attack from the sides. The midfield is well-established and can possess the ball until holes start opening up. The forwards will need to improve their production, but are not far away.
Will the Rapids be tough to beat at home again this year? Can the forwards deliver and finish better this season? Are some of the questions they will need to answer. One thing is for sure, the Rapids haven’t seen this much excitement surrounding them heading into a season in some time.