Editorial (February 26, 2019) – The 2019 MLS regular season kicks off this week. After arguably the most disappointing season in club history last year, the Colorado Rapids are looking to make progress this year. They finished second to last in the Western Conference last year, with 31 points (8-19-7). First year manager Anthony Hudson had growing pains in the league as a mid-season formation switch and squabbles with strikers saw the club fall well short of their hopes.
2019 Colorado Rapids Season Preview: Three Key Question
This off-season has seen big changes for the Rapids up front. Proven MLS attackers in Kei Kamara and Benny Feilhaber have joined the club. Some young players just got signed to multi-year extensions. The 4-4-2 diamond looks to be their primary formation for the season. The defensive personnel hasn’t changed much, but the Rapids are on the homegrown bandwagon. Oh, and this will be captain and United Stated legend Tim Howard‘s final professional season.
New faces on offense mean more goals?
The Rapids struggled to score goals in 2018. After leading scorers Dominique Badji and Joe Mason left the club in the summer, the only bright spots where rookie Niki Jackson and some moments from Kellyn Acosta. Kamara, Feilhaber, Diego Rubio, and Nicolas Mezquida have to ball out this year.
Kamara should do well as the traditional No. 9 up top. Rubio was an effective substitute with Sporting KC and if his production translates to being a starter, he’ll be a great underneath striker. The Rapids midfield could be ready for some Total Football with Mezquida and Feilhaber sharing the No. 10 and shuttling No. 8 roles.
Feilhaber and Kamara are on big salaries this year. Both are 34-years-old. Can they stay healthy and productive in a shorter (read: intensified) season? Can Hudson find reliable offensive contributors in Andre Shinyashiki, Jackson, Sam Nicholson, etc? If so, the Rapids attack will be much better this year.
What’s happening at left back?
Last season, the quagmire position for the Rapids was right back. With Edgar Castillo gone and Keegan Rosenberry joining from Philadelphia Union, the new hole on the back line could be left back. The Rapids FO have spoken highly of Deklan Wynne in the past, whom they believe is a natural left back. Homegrown Dillon Serna has played there in preseason after spending time on the right in 2018.
The plan for the future could be young Sam Vines, who hasn’t played much and could be loaned down to USL side Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC. All three of these players bring something different to the position, yet all three have their flaws.
Wynne and Hudson are familiar with each other going back to the New Zealand national team, but it’s clear Wynne’s ceiling isn’t very high. Serna’s bounced around at several positions over the years. While he’s the most dangerous of the three in the attack, he’s defensively suspect. Vines is just 19-years-old and very raw. None of them could be the answer right now and that could be trouble for the Rapids defensively.
Can the organization make progress in year two under Hudson?
The 2018 Colorado Rapids failed spectacularly. The front office and coaching staff made it clear they knew what they needed to do to be better this year. They’ve upgrades several positions and brought in veterans who know how to win in MLS. The European players are in position to make improvements now that their familiar with the league.
As I wrote last year, the question is whether the club believes in and can execute the vision visa vie the Rapids Way. Ultimately, they’re building for 2020 when the DP contracts of Howard and Shkelzen Gashi come off the books. The club will look to sign a No. 9 and No. 10.
Can the club make the playoffs? If not, can they become competitive and stay relevant in the west? If so, they’ll show they’re on the right track towards sustainability. If not, supporters and pundits will be rightful suspect of club leadership, even if the new DP signings are successful.
Last Word: Playoff prediction
I say the Rapids just miss out on the playoffs, finishing eighth in the Western Conference. I have a hard time seeing Kamara and Feilhaber staying healthy and productive all year. The outside backs are a concern especially if something happens to Rosenberry. Plus the Rapids end the season with 7 of 9 games on the road. They’ll be in the hunt with a month left in the season, but will just barely miss out on the playoffs.