PREVIEW – The Colorado Rapids finished top of the Western Conference in 2021. They were nearly perfect in games against lesser opponents and gradually got better against the likes of Sporting KC and Seattle Sounders. Jack Price led the team to be the Set Piece Kings of MLS once again. An improved Auston Trusty and goalkeeper William Yarbrough led the team to the most clean sheets in the league. The Rapids had no conventional superstars, but head coach Robin Fraser’s “twenty five superstars” did enough on Decision Day to win the conference. It all came crashing down on Pidsgiving, as their weaknesses and Portland Timbers’ greatest strength came to light in a 1-0 game. Let’s preview the 2022 Colorado Rapids season with three key questions.
2022 Colorado Rapids Season Preview
Key Arrivals: Max Alves, Bryan Acosta, Aboubacar Keita
Key Departures: Kellyn Acosta, Cole Bassett, Auston Trusty*
Young Player to Watch: Lucas Esteves
*Trusty will depart on July 17 for Arsenal
The midfield has seen the most changes personnel wise. Kellyn Acosta was controversially traded to LAFC while Bassett is on loan to Feyenoord with an option to buy. Max and Bryan Acosta are in as like-for-like replacements. Colorado’s track record with signing South American players and the $1 million transfer fee should make one bullish on Max. Keita is another underrated pickup by General Manager Pádraig Smith. Keita could be another two year project for Fraser with Trusty departing. Esteves continues to shine since coming in for Sam Vines. An amazing 2022 season could put him on the radar of European scouts.
The question every supporter is asking: Where’s the DP striker?
Colorado’s one weakness last season was the lack of a regular goal scorer. Michael Barrios led the team with eight goals from a wide position. In terms of center forwards, Diego Rubio dealt with injuries last year and has only scored double digit goals in MLS once. Andre Shinyashiki has played more in the midfield than he has up top due to his versatility. Dominique Badji left Colorado for FC Cincinnati as a free agent, likely for a pay raise. This team right now does not have a game changing finisher like the teams they’ll face in the later rounds of the MLS Cup Playoffs. Braian Galván’s knee injury only exacerbates this.
The rumor mill has been quiet. Smith has said the club is looking and is capable of paying for player who would add value. I remain skeptical because Kroenke Sports & Entertainment hasn’t shown the willingness to invest financially like most other MLS owners. If Colorado wants to spend big, it might require them selling big. Putting all the funds from four big sales in the last year into one egg would risk most of their let Pádraig cook flexibility. Are they willing to do that? Will KSE finally be convinced it’s worth giving the club $3 million for a transfer fee for a franchise changing player? Could Rubio have a career year and score 15 goals? Maybe Max turns out to an amazing No. 10 and it doesn’t matter what happens at striker. Maybe Fraser believes scoring by committee and set pieces will finally work come playoff time.
If none of that happens, the Rapids could again be one-and-done in the playoffs because of this one weakness.
How will the team overcome losing Trusty in July?
Trusty’s had a meteoric rise the last 18 months. He’s a well rounded center back with national team and European potential. His loan from Arsenal will end with 14 games left in the regular season. What the club does to overcome this could define their year.
Fraser started using the back three/five last year to get his three great center backs on the field (Trusty, Lalas Abubakar, and Danny Wilson). He could use the 4-3-3 more often and lean on the midfield’s strength in numbers and options. Keita could step in for Trusty. Drew Moor is long in the tooth but could start at times. Perhaps the Rapids will be shopping for the next Trusty at the start of the secondary transfer window.
In the meantime, Trusty has half a year to ball out before joining the Gunners and Fraser has that time to see if Keita and Mike Edwards can elevate their game. As long as they can still be a top ten defense after Trusty leaves, they should be ok. Personally, I think Fraser gets something out Keita. He won’t be what Trusty is this year, but he won’t be a weak link that derails the season.
How will the midfield shake out?
Fraser is spoiled for chose when it comes to his midfielders. Mark-Anthony Kaye and Max should be good in the attack. Price is one of the most underrated central midfielders in the game. He should again have a great year as captain and taking corners. Oliver Larraz and Philip Mayaka have had good preseasons and could be ready to make the step up into the first team after spending last year on loan in the USL Championship. Whether Bryan Acosta can fill Kellyn Acosta’s shoes is a question. Collen Warner is the old reliable holding midfielder. Nicolás Mezquida can bring energy off the bench in multiple positions.
Fraser likes having depth and rotating the squad. Everyone listed in the previous paragraph can play multiple positions and has a versatile skillset. With Acosta coming in, Price could be pushed further up the field as a No. 8 rather than the No. 6/regista he’s been in the past. Warner allowed the best of Price to come out in that role in 2021.
There’s a bunch of possible outcomes here. Whatever happens, it should be good. Unlike the first two questions in this article, Rapids supporters shouldn’t be concerned. They should be excited about the specifics of which good outcome happens.
Last Word: Will this team finally win a playoff game?
I say no. Acosta and Trusty will prove to be big losses. While I think Max will end up being a great signing, it’ll take him some time to adjust. It’s hard to see Barrios improving his number of goal contributions. Rubio should be better this year but it’s hard to see him topping what he did in 2019. Meanwhile, most of the Western Conference has gotten better. Colorado will be on the bubble for a home playoff game most the season. They will not be the top seed in the conference, but will make playoffs. They’ll lose in the first round to a team with better star power, as departing players will leave defensive cracks that will be their undoing.
Photo Credit: John A. Babiak @Photog_JohnB