Colorado Rapids 2016 Season Review

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From Last Word on Soccer, by Matt Pollard

Editorial (November 29, 2016) – The Colorado Rapids 2016 season ended this past Sunday in a heartbreaking loss to the Seattle Sounders. Still, this was the best season in club history on several levels. With only a few off-season decisions to make, the future is bright for the club. Here’s a full recap of their 2016 campaign.

Colorado Rapids 2016 Season Review

First off, this season was historic for the Rapids. They signed two big name players in Jermaine Jones and Tim Howard. They set a record for points with 58 in a 34 game season. Colorado almost won the Supporter’s Shield in the process. The club also set several MLS records for points per game at home, goals conceded at home, etc.

And they did this all in a year when they were picked to finish at the bottom of the Western Conference. Even without a trophy, this was a historic season for the Colorado Rapids. 2016 was an excellent building block for the future standard and success of this club.

What Went Right

The defense and the home record. Colorado were the only team in MLS to not lose a home game in the regular season. Dick’s Sporting Goods Park became a fortress at altitude for the club, going 13-1-6 in all competitions. The Rapids developed a systematic way of winning at home: let the other team have the ball, give them nothing, defend by committee, create chances, and finish the ones you get. Once they got a lead, they rarely gave it up.

All of this stemmed from the mantras Head Coach Pablo Mastroeni instituted from the start of the season. #NextManUp, #KeepFighting, believe in yourselves and in each other no matter what the outside says. Soccer is a game of will and composure. Mastroeni helped turn the club around from the off-season. With contributions from the front office, he came up with a system of play and philosophy, put his veterans in a position to lead, and got out of the way.

Defensively, the club was the best in MLS. Axel Sjoberg had a Defender of the Year nominee season, being solid on the ground and in the air. Bobby Burling proved to be a physical force and Jared Watts was a serviceable back up. In the midfield, Captain Sam Cronin and Michael Azira were the fulcrum in front of the back line. Zac MacMath did a good job in goal, and Howard just continued and elevated the play when he arrived.

What Went Wrong

What went wrong? The offense and their last playoff game did. Colorado made the playoffs and could have won a trophy or two on their defense. The offense did enough for the team to succeed. They were built to win 1-0, but they also didn’t create many chances. The DPs didn’t contribute at typical DP level striker levels at times.

They relied too much on individual brilliance. Early on, it was Marco Pappa pulling the strings. Then it was Kevin Doyle coming off an injury. Then there was a lull in the summer. In August, Marlon Hairston arrived. Then Shkelzen Gashi had some good moments.

But in the playoffs, things petered out. In 390 minutes of playoff soccer, they scored two goals. One was a lucky bounce off a defender. The other was a 40 yard golazo from Gashi. But critic of the Rapids would have been that at some point, that individual brilliance isn’t going to be there, what do they do? They lose at home and get eliminated from the playoffs.

If anything needs to change in 2017, it’s the offensive system, chance creation, and goal production.

Off Season Plans

First and foremost, Mastroeni is out of contract. It’s a no-brainer that he should be re-signed. After that, most of the team is set in stone.

The young core of Hairston, Sjoberg, Dillon Serna, and Dillon Powers are under contract. Gashi showed his quality later on in the season and most DPs improve in their second year in MLS. He should be better and more impactful in 2017. Howard is also on the mend.

There is some uncertainty with Jones, who tweeted out (then deleted it) that he is out of contract. The Rapids are in a sticky situation with Jones. He was great in the games he played in. But he was only healthy for a third of the season. Jones is going to want a DP or TAM level contract. For health reasons, he just isn’t worth that.

Colorado will also have to make decisions with with the 2016 Expansion Draft.

After that, the Rapids will need to address the attack. A new signing or two is probably needed. That said, they will probably improve in 2017 if they just hold onto their chips. Hairston and Gashi will improve. If they can tinker with the roles Doyle and Powers play, they will improve. With their defense, they don’t need to score a lot. They just need to score a little bit more.