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Here comes the season, Part 4

March 7, 2012 | 3:54 pm No comments
By Shaun Schafer

We end this look at the coming season with the team that drives soccer in Colorado, the Colorado Rapids.

MLS Cup champions in 2010, the Rapids slogged through 2011. After the first month of the campaign, only a July dismantling of New York (4-0) and an August domination of Columbus (a 2-0 shellacking that looked like an 11-on-9 game) stood out. The Rapids made the playoffs and got by the Crew before bowing to Sporting Kansas City.

Now 2012 opens with a new coach, new managing director and a major retooling on the field. This team features many familiar names, but may be playing in a style that we haven’t seen in years.

New coach Oacar Pareja has gone for an attacking, Latin-flavored lineup. Jaime Castrillon and Martin Rovero are supposed to trigger an attack that will rely on the prowess of Omar Cummings and Conor Casey.

Cummings and Casey coalesced late in 2009 and had brilliant seasons in 2010 as they combined for 30 goals. Injuries dogged Casey and then sidelined him for the season in 2011. Cummings suffered a power outage in Casey’s absence. Both will need a return to 2010 to succeed this season.

Behind that tandem is Quincy Amarikwa and Andre Akpan. Amarikwa has speed and heart, but an inconsistent touch and shot. Akpan has shown flashes of brilliance, but needs minutes to make an impact.

Midfield is another matter. Pablo Mastroeni went through a revival in 2010 and continued in 2011. Jeff Larentowicz was the best player for Colorado in 2011 and he is a nightmare to face. Those two should be fine.

The concern is the age of the other probable starter, Brian Mullan, and the lack of options on the bench. Sanna Nyassi is gone, Jamie Smith is coming back from injury and “journeyman” is the best description for the remainder. It’s a long season, and time is a cruel partner. Both are working against the Rapids midfield.

Defense looks solid, except for left back. Anthony Wallace is gone with an injury, and Drew Moor looks increasingly entrenched in the center. This leaves Colorado tinkering with Luis Zapata and Hunter Freeman.

Adding it all up, the Rapids face a challenging route to the playoffs. The team is strong in the back and aging in the middle. Its style of play is being revamped, and its depth looks questionable.

What this means for the season is that the Rapids are unlikely to challenge the Seattle-LA power struggle for the top spot in the West. Instead, look for Colorado to hold others scoreless while on a quest for a scoring touch. When it comes — check in about May — this team will be back in the playoff battle.

In the final scenario, the Rapids only get back to the MLS Cup if they can hold off Father Time and find a way to score goals similar to the pace that ended 2010 and started 2011.

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