By FRANCO PANIZO
The foundation has been laid and now the Colorado Rapids will have to build on it.
After a disappointing, injury-plagued first year under head coach Oscar Pareja, the Rapids are aiming to show progress in the Colombian’s possession-based and attack-minded system in 2013. Pareja has brought in more players who seem to fit his philosophy but in the process he has gotten rid of several key veterans, including midfielder Jeff Larentowicz and forward Omar Cummings.
Making up for the loss of those experienced players will fall on the shoulders of players like Edson Buddle, Diego Calderon and Nick LaBrocca, newcomers to the team who will quickly need to adapt to Pareja’s system in order for Colorado to have a chance of being a more competitive this season.
While there are plenty of new parts in Colorado, the core of the team has remained. Jaime Castrillon, Drew Moor, Matt Pickens and Martin Rivero are just some of the players returning and should they build on last year’s successes while also getting some help from some of the offseason acquisitions, the Rapids should be much improved and in contention for the playoffs in 2013.
Here is a closer look at the Colorado Rapids ahead of the 2013 MLS season:
COLORADO RAPIDS PREVIEW
2012 FINISH: 11-19-4, 37 points (Seventh in Western Conference)
KEY ACQUISITIONS: F Edson Buddle, M Atiba Harris, M Kevin Harbottle, D Diego Calderon, M Nick LaBrocca, F DeShorn Brown, M Dillon Powers, F Danny Mwanga
KEY LOSSES: F Omar Cumming, F Conor Casey, M Jeff Larentowicz, D Luis Zapata, D Tyrone Marshall
NEWCOMER TO WATCH: F Edson Buddle – With veteran forwards Conor Casey and Omar Cummings now gone, Buddle has a heavy load to carry in his first season with the Rapids. The 31-year-old leaves the Galaxy after a subpar second stint with the club but Colorado seems confident that a change of scenery will help Buddle return to his old form. How well Buddle fares will play a key part in the Rapids’ success this season.
THE PRESSURE IS ON: Oscar Pareja – Having had a full preseason to further fine-tune and add to a team he began molding last winter, Pareja will need to show he is making progress in his second year with the Rapids. Getting rid of so many key veteran players will draw plenty of ire from the fanbase should Pareja’s newest additions struggle to adjust to MLS, so a better year is needed from a results standpoint from Pareja.
The Colorado Rapids are not deviating from the idea of fielding a team with an attacking mindset. Oscar Pareja has brought in a number of new players to help execute his gameplan, but it is the team’s losses which have been a big talking point during the preseason.
Just how will the Rapids cope with losing three seasoned veterans in Conor Casey, Omar Cummings and Jeff Larentowicz, players who were a big part of the Rapids in recent years? That is one of the questions Pareja will have to answer this season. He has, however, brought in younger players who could possibly fill the void and avoid the type of injuries that hampered Colorado in 2012.
It was obvious last season that Colorado needed to get younger, fresher legs on the team and the Rapids have done that by acquiring players like rookie forward DeShorn Brown and midfielders Nick LaBrocca and Atiba Harris.
Edson Buddle is not as young as those aforementioned three, but he too will have a big role on the Rapids this season. Buddle is being expected to be Colorado’s main scoring threat – now that Omar Cummings and Conor Casey are in the club’s rearview mirrow – and how he does will play a key part in determining if the Rapids succeed or struggle.
Still, Pareja must integrate all of his new players to the core of the team, a core that has talent but needs depth. Pablo Mastroeni is returning to the fray after almost retiring last season, but it is unclear just how much the Rapids can count on him, whether as a starter or off the bench, given his injury-prone ways.
If Mastroeni can stay relatively healthy this year and if the new talent adjusts fairly quickly, the Rapids should be in good shape to improve on their initial year under Pareja. Anything less than that, however, would likely start to raise questions about the direction of the club’s future.