Editorial (September 11, 2018) – In 2018, the Colorado Rapids have played seven different players at the right back/right wing back position. Most recently, homegrown center back Kortne Ford has started there with Deklan Wynne coming off the bench. To the surprise of many, Marlon Hairston appears to be in the dog house. Let’s take a look at the Colorado Rapids right back situation.
What’s up with Colorado Rapids right back position and why Kortne Ford is starting
The following players have all featured at the right back and/or right wing back position for the Rapids this season: Marlon Hairston, Deklan Wynne, Dillon Serna, Kip Colvey, Nana Boateng, Johan Blomberg, and Kortne Ford.
Based on coaching decisions, I group these players into three groups.
The familiar faces:
Hudson brought Wynne and Colvey to the Rapids after managing them when he was the head coach of the New Zealand National Team. Both have been in MLS for a while but didn’t get a shot at their previous clubs. Wynne came to North America by way of Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2. Colvey got just four league games in two years with San Jose Earthquakes.
Both have struggled at times this season. Wynne was unable to play win in the 3-5-2 and develop a working defensive partnership with his wing back partner as a center back. He’s worked his way back to the bench recently by being the only other right back Hudson trusts right now. He does provide more going forward than Ford does with his speed.
Colvey has had a very poor season. There have been questions of his tactical acumen and fitness levels. He wasn’t solid defensively couldn’t make up for it with offensive production. He was subbed out in the first half against Toronto FC back in April and has appeared in just one other game.
Both of these players are still relatively young and for the first time have gotten opportunities to start in MLS. They’re pet projects for Hudson going into 2019.
No. 8s out of position:
When the 3-5-2 was still on the table in the summer, Hudson expressed throughout several interviews how what he wants from the No. 8 position and wing back position are similar. He wants someone who can play both sides of the ball, help in possession, get into the attack, and provide service.
There were a few games where the wide center mids were partnering up with their wing back more than any other position, mostly Edgar Castillo and Sam Nicholson. To a certain extent, I agree with Hudson’s premise that the Venn diagram of a wing back and center mid in the 3-5-2 have some overlap. They aren’t the same though.
Hudson experimented (partly out of desperation, partly due to injuries and schedule congestion) with Boateng and Blomberg in this role for several games. Blomberg had the offensive capabilities (especially those 25-yard passes into the box) but lacked in speed and defensive work rate. Boateng had two horrible games at the position that included poor passes leading to goals.
Both have since returned to the midfield with the switch to the 4-4-2 diamond and it looks like they’ll stay there and fit in.
Fan favorites in the dog house:
Few Rapids players regularly get applause when their name is called out at Dick’ Sporting Goods Park like Hairston and Serna. Both had slow periods over the last few years as they couldn’t fit in at a particular position under Pablo Mastroeni.
Hudson has tried both at right wing back. One of the great hopes for 2018 was that Hairston was finally going to be put into a position to succeed. He had grown into the defensive aspects of being a fullback while still being a threat to go forward. It seems a fullback role in the 3-5-2 was just what he needed and right as he was getting called in the United States Men’s National Team.
Then Hairston injured his knee and missed two months. Once he was cleared to play, he took some time getting back into form. Then he disappeared from the lineup and was later sent home early from the club’s week-long trip to Southern California to play LA Galaxy and Los Angeles FC.
He hasn’t seen the field since. As far as I can tell, Hairston’s in the doghouse for one reason or another. Hudson has valued the effort in training, commitment, and is waiting for someone to take the position and make it theirs. He’s waiting while also not giving anyone a slew of games to get comfortable, other than Hairston before his injury and Ford of late.
Serna as a fullback was a hybrid between the Colvey and Hairston situation. He’s never really found a position that fits him at the MLS level. In years past, he’s gotten an opportunity, had a moment of class, then not seen the field for another month. While he has the speed and offensive abilities, he’s made defensive mistakes.
Serna is out of the discussion as a right back at this point though. With the formation change and a good match against Boca Juniors in July, he’s found a home at the top of the diamond.
Ford for now:
Kortne Ford has started the last sevel games at right back for the club. This change happened in parallel with the move to the diamond midfield. Ford has been a very conservative fullback, almost a third center back at times.
He has the speed to keep up with most of his opposing wingers (he had some trouble at LAFC recently). He’s gotten better in that role of late and has gotten forward to cross the ball into the box more of late.
Hudson has been clear that Ford at right back is a temporary fix. He’s there because he’s the best option but is absolutely the center back of the future. He’s more stout defensively than any of his six predecesors. He doesn’t get forward as much, but he also doesn’t get burned when he is too far forward. When he has been involved in conceding a goal, it has involved someone else (usually Danny Wilson) making a more significant error.
Ford isn’t perfect at right back. He’s rolling with the punches. Hudson sees something in him that he hasn’t seen others do. For the Rapids to be successful in 2019, another player will have to step in, be it Hairston reclaiming a position Hudson thought was his, another player mentioned above, or a new signing.