The 2015 Colorado Rapids were depressing. They finished last in the Western Conference, last in goals scored and last in attendance. They continued to replace young talent with veteran mediocrity. Even technical director Paul Bravo, amidst all the spin, acknowledged that the team was a mess once the ball crossed midfield.
Instead of firing head coach Pablo Mastroeni, who has won an abysmal 19 of 71 games during his time in charge, Colorado decided they’d stick with their embattled coach and add a new assistant to focus on reviving the offense. On Thursday, the Rapids announced John Spencer, a man who has been out of coaching since being fired as head coach of the Portland Timbers midway through the 2012 season, would be added to Mastroeni’s staff.
Spencer, in what will be a role akin to offensive coordinator, isn’t exactly a slam-dunk hire. His attack in Portland was straightforward, extremely direct, and not especially effective, not unlike the type of attack Colorado is, apparently, trying to shed.
Still, compared with the rest of this Rapids offseason, the Spencer hire looks like a stroke of genius.
To recap: Big pickup Marco Pappa, previously with the Seattle Sounders, was allegedly stabbed at his apartment by Miss Washington; potential Designated Player signing Alan Pulido may be facing a two- to six-month ban; and the team traded up to the number one spot in the MLS allocation order during the Superdraft only to find FC Nantes unwilling to part with Alejandro Bedoya.
Colorado has also struck out in their pursuit of Carlos Vela, lost captain Drew Moor in free agency and shipped fan favorite goalkeeper Clint Irwin off to join Moor at Toronto FC.
If the Rapids did, in fact, clear out Irwin to make room for Tim Howard, the situation in Colorado is even more dire than we thought. Howard, at 36 years old and in the worst form of his career, would be an absolutely farcical signing. Goalkeeper was the one place this team didn’t need help.
And remember, this was the offseason in which the Rapids were going to turn things around by spending and thinking big. Instead, this offseason has been a rambling sideshow. With the Western Conference continuing to get better, Colorado remains rooted to the foot of the division.
This organization has no clue. They’ve recommitted to Mastroeni for reasons beyond understanding yet continue to undercut him by with the likes of Director of Soccer Claudio Lopez and now Spencer. It’s been Chivas USA-esque.
The absolute destruction of this club happened in two years flat. Remember, in 2013, Colorado was heralded as one of MLS’s most exciting young teams as it made the playoffs under Oscar Pareja. Things began to fall apart when Pareja decided he wanted to return to FC Dallas. The Rapids delayed the move for as long as they could before force-feeding the job to Mastroeni, who had just retired and had no coaching experience.
Since the midway point of the 2014 season, Colorado has systematically and ruthlessly driven away the core of that 2013 playoff team. They’ve made an obsession of acquiring mediocre veterans who they deem to be “leaders,” resulting in a team that looks readier to battle Premier League relegation than contend for MLS Cup.
The idea, as stated by embattled technical director Bravo in November, that the Rapids can build a winner around Kevin Doyle, Sean St. Ledger, and Sam Cronin is simply an affront to the team’s dwindling fanbase. The league has changed. Against the likes of Portland, Seattle, LA, Dallas, and Vancouver, the likes of St. Ledger and Cronin aren’t ever going to cut it.
This team has no idea how it wants to play. Bravo has consistently stated that he wants an attractive, possession-oriented style, but he’s also praised the defensive fortitude of Mastroeni’s route-one kickball approach. The movement this offseason, in which the Rapids have lost 12 players and brought in midfielders Michael Azira (Seattle), Zach Pfeffer (Philadelphia) and Pappa, hasn’t communicated a coherent strategy.
Colorado is only slated for two national TV games in 2016, one on ESPN2 away at DC United in March and another in late August on UniMas at Real Salt Lake. Factor in Colorado’s poor attendance and it’s easy to see why the Rapids have sought attention by doing things like inquiring about Howard.
But going for that type of name isn’t how you win games or fans. And no one in this dysfunctional organization – which is over-concerned with its reputation and went as far as to seek MLSSoccer.com beat writer Chris Bianchi’s dismissal at the end of the 2014 season for criticizing the front office – appears to understand that.
Owner Stan Kroenke, a Missouri native who just yanked the NFL’s Rams out of St. Louis to move them to Los Angeles, is an absentee landlord. Bravo and with team president Tim Hinchey appear out of touch, while Mastroeni still in over his head. Chicago and Philadelphia recently blew up similarly doomed regimes, and you have to figure that the Rapids will be next to clean house.
Maybe Howard comes in. Maybe Pulido avoids suspension and arrives as well. But nothing will change. Soccer clubs need direction and intelligence at the top. Colorado has none of that, and as a result, the Rapids are on the verge becoming MLS’s laughingstock.