MLS ’11 Preview: The Mile High Champions’ Title Defense
TEAM: Colorado Rapids
COACH: Gary Smith (ENG)
2010 LEAGUE RESULTS: 46 pts (12-8-10), 5th Western Conference, MLS Cup Champions
2010 REVIEW: In 2010, the Colorado Rapids became the 9th team to capture the MLS Cup. The unfortunate truth about their Championship season was that they became yet another talking point for Euro football purists. The Rapids finished the campaign with the 7th best record in the league, but the reality was that they were a formidable team throughout the season, and things came together at the right time. Standout forwards Omar Cummings and Conor Casey were the most prolific tandem in MLS in 2010, accounting for 27 goals between the two of them. This allowed the Rapids to finish tied for second in goals scored. Their defense allowed the fifth fewest goals in the league, led by Marvell Wynne and Drew Moor, and backstopped by Matt Pickens. So while those who advocate a single table system point out their shortcomings in the table, Colorado had every right to be considered as a top club.
ROSTER ADDITIONS: Colorado has not made many moves this offseason, but two of their primary acquisitions were to help supplement a midfield that’s aging. Perhaps the most influential move was for 22 yr-old Sanna Nyassi, acquired from Vancouver after his selection from Seattle in the Super Draft. A speedy wide midfielder who scored twice in Seattle’s Open Cup clincher last season, he will compete for playing time with Jamie Smith, Brian Mullan, and Wells Thompson. Central midfielder Joseph Nane was acquired from Toronto FC to provide depth off the bench. Another former Sounder, 36-yr old defender Tyrone Marshall, was selected in the Re-Entry Draft to help offset the losses described below.
ROSTER SUBTRACTIONS: Colorado’s main departures were on defense. After the midseason trade for 22-year old left back Anthony Wallace, it meant that Danny Earls was expendable heading into 2011. Both Earls and defender Julien Baudet were traded to Seattle Sounders for Peter Vagenas, who was later released.
PROJECTED STARTERS: Coach Smith has preferred the 4-4-2 for the team, and there should be little impetus to switch.
FORWARDS: Casey, a powerful forward, and Cummings, the speed and finesse up front, work well together as the striker tandem. 2010 breakout Macoumba Kandji would have figured to have pushed Casey and Cummings for a starting role, but he tore ligaments in his knee during the MLS Cup game and will not figure into the team until nearly summer.
MIDFIELD: Larentowicz and Mastroeni will provide the central base for the team. At left midfield, Smith and Thompson will likely share time. Mullan will complete the midfield on the right flank.
DEFENSE AND GOAL: Wynne and Moor are the backbone of a solid defensive core. Kosuke Kimura has been a fixture at right back, which only leaves the left side as a question mark. The job is likely Wallace’s to lose. Pickens started all but one MLS match in 2010.
KEY PLAYER: Casey is in his prime as a player. He’s a big guy whose knack for getting under the skin of opposing defenders is nearly as useful as his ability to add to the scoresheet. The Denver native is a prototypical target man: large, physical, and able to hold onto the ball under pressure. When he’s in the game, his influence is felt throughout the opponent’s defensive third.
PLAYER TO WATCH: With a strong showing during training, Nyassi could earn himself a starting spot. Obviously the Sounders leaving him exposed in the Expansion Draft says something for his role in their team. But also remember that Seattle did the same with Sebastian Le Toux after the 2009 season. With the age of Smith and Mullan, Nyassi’s pace might distinguish him from the others.
OUTLOOK: I look to Real Salt Lake’s response after their Cup victory in 2010 as a clue to what to expect from Colorado. This team remains largely intact, and based on their offensive and defensive statistics from 2010, they should be considered as a threat to repeat. Their biggest challenge is that the Western Conference is a talented bunch.
PREDICTION: 61 pts, 2nd Western Conference