For the Colorado Rapids, the task at hand is simple: qualify for the postseason. 2006 was the last time the club made the postseason, and coach Gary Smith would love nothing more than to end the drought.
Since taking over in 2008, Smith has now had enough time to shape the roster to his liking. The club came up short on the last day of 2009, and only a few minor moves came as a result — the biggest involving a trade with the New England Revolution that brought Wells Thompson and Jeff Larentowicz to Colorado.
Success in 2010 will be determined by how a number of key players bounce back from serious injuries and offseason surgeries, and if Conor Casey and Omar Cummings can once again carry the offensive load.
Here's a look at the 2010 Colorado Rapids:
2010 COLORADO RAPIDS
Players to Watch– Conor Casey, Omar Cummings, Colin Clark, Pablo Mastroeni, Andre Akpan
Key Arrivals – Jeff Larentowicz, Ian Joyce, Oscar Murillo, Wells Thompson, Ross LaBaeux, Andre Akpan
Key Departures – Cory Gibbs, Preston Burpo, Jordan Harvey, Jacob Peterson, Ty Harden
Projected Lineup (New starters in bold)
—————–Omar Cummings—–Conor Casey———————
Colin Clark————————————————-Jamie Smith
————Jeff Larentowicz——Pablo Mastroeni——————-
Danny Earls——Drew Moor–Julien Baudet——-Kosuke Kimura
Big Question – Can the Rapids heal quickly and regain form? Several key players for the Rapids — Colin Clark, Jamie Smith, Jeff Larentowicz and Pablo Mastroeni — are in the midst of recovery from offseason surgery or injury.
Clark and Smith both suffered season-ending injuries in 2009, while new acquisition Larentowicz joined Mastoeni on the treatment table after undergoing surgery during the break.
Depending on who is healthy for opening day will certainly shape the lineup. Wells Thompson and Mehdi Ballouchy provide depth on the flanks in case either Clark or Smith struggle in their return.
X-Factor – Much of the offensive burden will fall on the two projected starting forwards. Cummings and Casey teamed well together last year, combining for 24 goals and 13 assists (12 by the Jamaican).
If the two can recapture their form from last year — and improve on it — Colorado will remain in contention. Disaster could strike if either suffers a serious injury, and there's potential for Casey to miss a solid amount of time through duty with the U.S. team.
Andre Akpan could fill in for either of the two, but he's unproven at an MLS level and questions about his work ethic and attitude meant he dropped into the second round on draft day. He'll more than likely get a chance to show what he can do in 2010.
Outlook – Keeping Casey and Cummings healthy is most important to Colorado's success. The Rapids are built to cope with injuries in the middle of the park, but are thin once you got past the two starters up front.
Bottom line for the Rapids, is if Casey and Cummings are fit and in form, Colorado is a playoff contender. They'll have to do something special in 2010 to prove that they are anything more than that, however.