EDITORIAL – The Colorado Rapids have qualified for the playoffs for the first time since 2016. Robin Fraser’s side tightened up defensively in their runs of good form in September and November. Many will look to the loud and focused William Yarbrough in goal, Jack Price captaining the team as the No. 6, and Lalas Abubakar. Those are all good shouts, but there’s another player worth highlighting: Danny Wilson.
Danny Wilson Redemption Arc: The Underrated key to the Rapids Backline
Wilson came to the Rapids in 2018. He was a part of the woeful back three under Anthony Hudson that year, playing alongside Deklan Wynne and Tommy Smith. The team struggled throughout the season, with all three of these defenders having poor years. They were slow, did not defend 1-v-1 well, and regularly made mistakes that led to goals.
Playing under three coaches in 2019, Wilson saw a reduction in playing time. Late in the year, he played several times at holding midfielder in a 4-2-3-1. While the Scotsman was not playing as much and playing out of position, he did a job. With a simplified role, interim head coach Conor Casey and then newly appointed permanent manager Robin Fraser got a handful of good performances out of him.
Like many who watched the Rapids closely in 2018, this writer was convinced that the player was a bust of a signing. Outside of Jack Price, none of the European signings on that team had played particularly well. Wilson had not adjusted well to MLS and was a detriment to the team, on a TAM contract. He did however prove last year he could be useful in certain situations.
What Happened This Year:
Going into 2020, the 28-year-old appeared to be set for another season on the bench. He was going into the final guaranteed year of his contract. He’d be a substitute defender and defensive midfielder and Colorado would decline his 2021 contract option to bring in a player with more upside at a lower salary.
What started off as possibly a tongue and cheek joke during the MLS is Back tournament has become a reality: Danny Wilson has had a redemption arc of a season.
He’s started 9 of the 18 games the team played in the regular season. In the restarted regular season, he started in 8 of 13 games. Accounting for an injury at LA Galaxy and squad rotation, he along with Lalas Abubakar are the preferred starting center backs for Fraser.
Wilson was brought to the club in 2018 as the team looked to establish a style of play building of the back. He has shown that ability this year to great effect.
“Danny has to be one of the best passing center backs in the league. He has the ability to analyze quickly and well and choose which give us the best options to start our attack,” Manager Robin Fraser.
Wilson is second on the team in G+ this year, according to American Soccer Analysis, behind Lalas Abubakar. According to G+, he’s the third best passing center back in the league with at least 500 minutes played this year. He ranks 17th overall in the league at his position.
Answering the Call:
That said, Wilson has improved defensively. That is one of the main reasons he’s played so much this year.
“What he has done (more recently) is he’s been really solid defensively. That’s been good for us and good for him,” said Fraser.
Defensive structure and gifting opposing offenses nothing were pillars of Colorado’s two good runs of form this year. Yarbrough has been a loud organizer in goal for the defense. Wilson and Price have been the next most communicative, giving directions and providing eagle eyes to those around them.
Just like with Tommy Smith last year, Abubakar has made his center back partner better, with Abubakar being the fast guy and Wilson being the strong guy.
The back four has suited him and the team better than Hudson’s back three in the 3-5-2. He’s gotten better support around him in both system and personnel. He’s been given specific responsibilities that fit him.
Most importantly, he’s stepped up to play well and minimize mistakes. Outside of the red card at the MLS is Back tournament, he’s yet to make a mistake that led directly to a goal conceded or the Rapids losing a game.
He is the most improved defender on the team this year. He is one of the reasons they are in the playoffs. He’s proven this writer and many who have doubted him wrong. Baring a howler that eliminates the Rapids from the playoffs, he should be in serious consideration to return to the club next year at a similar salary figure.