The second-worst team in MLS in 2015 transformed into a legitimate contender before falling just short of hosting MLS Cup.
Pablo Mastroeni and the Colorado Rapids defied expectations in 2016, ending just two points short of the Supporters’ Shield. A cohesive defense led the club to its success, with a stable backline of youngsters and two proven defensive midfielders in front of them.
The addition of DP forward Shklezen Gashi gave Mastroeni’s men a new target up top and drew attention from other attacking weapons that flourished as a result. Throw in some key cameo appearances from Jermaine Jones and Marco Pappa, and the Rapids were a force to be reckoned with.
But with Jones headed to Los Angeles, and attackers Pappa and Sebastien Le Toux not currently locked up for 2017, there is work to be done by the technical staff.
Here is a closer look at what’s been done and what’s left to be done heading into the new year:
Joseph Greenspan, Jermaine Jones, Sean St. Ledger, Marco Pappa, Zach Pfeffer, Conor Doyle, Sebastien Le Toux
1st Round: No. 15 overall (Colorado will receive the LA Galaxy’s highest pick determined 24 prior to the SuperDraft, with Jermaine Jones’ rights going the other way), No. 21 overall (acquired from Toronto FC for Clint Irwin)
2nd Round: No. 24 overall (acquired from Atlanta United in exchange for an international roster spot)
3rd Round: No. 45 overall (acquired from Minnesota United for Joseph Greenspan)
4th Round: No. 86 overall
As it stands, the Rapids have made no off-season additions and have lost three high-quality midfield options. This is the most important item to be addressed. Mastroeni needs another attacker to be able to depend on for consistency, something that his 2016 options lacked.
The versatile nature of Mastroeni’s current attackers means a new signing could be a striker, winger or a playmaker. Youngster Dillon Serna will add depth to the wings in his return from injury, and the trio of Dominique Badji, Kevin Doyle and Gashi can all fill the striker role. Therefore, the safe bet is to assume the Rapids will spring for a playmaker.
A less urgent hole, which could be filled via the draft, is a young defensive midfielder that can eventually replace Michael Azira and Sam Cronin.
With a young backline and shiny new DP goalkeeper, the Rapids are set for another season as one of the best defensive clubs in the league. A number of Western Conference teams are in the rebuilding process, meaning Mastroeni’s men look set to make the playoffs comfortably again in 2017. The attacking dominance of FC Dallas and the Seattle Sounders, though, may once again keep the Rapids from reaching MLS Cup.
Mastroeni and company have a job left to do in adding attackers to the roster, but recent success in player acquisitions should leave Rapids fans optimistic. The club has three Draft picks in the top 25, and five of their current starters have been lower picks from the last three Drafts. The savvy Gashi pickup proves the ability of the team’s scouting and the trades the club has made for MLS veterans during his tenure have proven valuable.
If the right moves are made, the Rapids could make the leap from Cinderella story to title contender.