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Drawing of the 30: Midfielders

January 12, 2011 | 9:18 am No comments
By Shaun Schafer

(Editor’s note: This is part three of a series looking at how the Rapids will fill out an expanded roster for 2011.)

The Rapids won an MLS cup with a team that relied on a midfield built to challenge balls, disrupt attacks and allow little room for opponents.

Colorado midfielders spent a lot of energy. Only one of the four starters, 27-year-old Jeff Larentowicz, is younger than 30. While 30 is not old, asking players older than 30 to continue to burn with the same intensity for a 34-game grind, is to invite pulled hamstrings, open passing lanes and increased pressure on the defense.

In swapping Colin Clark during the season for Brian Mullan, the team got older. Acquiring Sanna Nyassi, 21, helped close the age gap this winter, but it was only a start. By adding a couple of defenders, which the team will do in the coming weeks, the next area that will need help is midfield.

Across the Middle: Larentowicz’s arrival before the start of the ’10 season proved a godsend for Pablo Mastroeni, 34. The middle tandem complemented one another and provided a scrappy engine to build around. Jamie Smith, 30, struggled as he recovered from injury, but provided good service from the wings. Mullan, 32, is easily outpaced, but with Anthony Wallace or Kosuke Kimura at his back, he’s rarely exposed.

Outlook: The starting four will not be available for all 34 matches. Beyond incorporating the speedy Nyassi, the team doesn’t have anyone on the roster who fits in the Larentowicz-Mastroeni mold. Wells Thompson, 27, has the fire, but he moves toward chaos too quickly. Nyassi and Thompson will see the field, but each has limitations.

Ross LaBauex, 22, has the ball handling to trigger offenses, but so did Mehdi Ballouchy, and the team never integrated him. The reserve games could be his proving ground. Davy Armstrong, 19, will also get needed seasoning in reserve matches and both players might make a U.S. Open Cup roster.

Joseph Nane, 23, is the big question mark. He’s tall (6-2). He arrives after toiling for Toronto FC for a season. And he’s a Denver product (Denver South High School).

Likely Move: Coach Gary Smith likes grinders in the middle of the field. Knowing that his starters will have to be spelled, look for Thompson and Nyassi to get time on the wings. If his 11 games in Toronto are an indication, watch Nane take up the reins with Larentowicz as defensive midfielders.

The Rapids will also need to add two young midfielders and one veteran. Smith will need someone with the experience to help kill off 1-0 games late. A couple of U.S. college players or 20-somethings from overseas would round out the midfield roster.

Next Up: Forwards

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