Friday, March 31, 2017

Colorado Makes Significant Roster Moves

A surprising set of moves from the FO today.  So surprising that at first many fans thought it was an early April Fool's Day prank.  It turned out to be real though.  Let me break down the actual transactions, then we'll get into the analysis.

Transaction 1:
  • Colorado sends D Marc Burch to Minnesota in exchange for M Josh Gatt, M Mohammed Saied, and an international slot
Gatt is a 25 year old attacking midfielder who started his career on fire, getting 2 caps for the u.S. by age 22 while playing for Molde FK in Sweden.  In mid-2013 he blew his ACL out, costing him his spot on the 2013 Gold cup roster.  It eventually took 3 operations (apparently one was botched) to fix.  and by the time he recovered he had missed about 3 years of first-team action.  He was signed by Minnesota this past offseason after 6 appearances for Molde but concerns about playing on the artificial turf has kept him on the bench.  When healthy he's a speedy winger who can also play striker.

Saied is a 26 year old defensive midfielder.  He's a Swedish born Eritrean who played his first 6 years in Sweden before the Crew signed him before the 2015 season.  He made 50 appearances for the crew before moving to Minnesota this last offseason, where he had yet to get off the bench.  He does require an international slot (which we got in the trade).

Transaction 2:
  • Colorado waives M Sam Cronin.  Minnesota claims Cronin off waivers.
At first this looks really strange.  Why waive the team captain instead of trading him.  This is due to the current Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) rules around Free Agents.  Since Cronin was a free agent at the end of last year, re-signed with his current team, and did so at a salary higher than the allowed bump for a free agent signing with another team, he could not be traded until the end of the 2017 season (this is to prevent teams/players doing an end run around the rules).  Instead he was waived an Minnesota was at the top of the waiver list.

Now I'm sure the Burch trade was made with full knowledge from both sides of what was going to happen with Cronin.  So for all intents and purposes we can really consider this one transaction, we traded Burch and Cronin for Gatt, Saied, and an international slot.

One last piece pf this puzzle, Jeff Carlisle is reporting that Minnesota will be picking up part of Gatt's salary, which is reportedly just under 200K.  Since Cronin was waived Minnesota gets to pick how much of his salary they'll cover, but if a team below them in waiver order would be willing to pick up more they would get Cronin.  That, combined with them picking up some of Gatt's salary, leads me to believe Minnesota is picking up pretty much all of Cronin's salary.

Ok, now that we've covered what happened, lets talk about why and if its a good thing.

To me, there's only one way this move makes sense.  As a salary dump to free up space to bring in a significant attacking option.  Burch and Cronin made $345K combined last year and we know Cronin got a bump in salary, odds are Burch's option had at least a bit of a raise as well.  Let's call it $400K total just for estimation.  Saeid was at $120K last year, with Minnesota picking up some of Gatt's 200K lets use 200K as the estimate for those two.  That means we probably freed up at least $200K in cap room.  With some GAM/TAM and maybe some extra room left under the cap that can get us pretty close to a max salary player.

The Denver Post article on the trade says as much.
“We feel like the upside of what we’ve brought in and the financial flexibility it gives us on the cap to continue to target an offensive threat is going to be a positive for the club in the future.”
The concerning thing about that article is that it makes it sound like they don't have a specific target they're looking at, they just wanted the freedom to sign somebody either in the current window or in July.  That's a problem, because trading two starters for two bench players without a plan on how to use that cap room right away really hamstrings us.  At the same time though, this is the same group that pulled Gashi out of nowhere with no rumors so hopefully they're just  playing their cards close to the vest and the have a move in the works.

Without a major signing before the window closes in May this is a bad trade.  A signing in the July window would redeem it somewhat, but  only if the team can stay in contention until then.  No signing in 2017 makes this trade a disaster on the scale of Beckerman for Ballouchy.  While Boateng can (hopefully) take Cronin's spot alongside Azira that's still putting a lot of pressure on a young player.  Cronin was a lynch pin to our success in 2016 and his leadership and stability is hard to replace.  I have no faith right now that Williams can fill Burch's shoes, and we have no other real option.

Also I assume that Tim Howard will take over the armband from Cronin.  That, at least, might be an upgrade.  That's no knock on Cronin's leadership, just acknowledging how good a job Howard can do in that role.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

International Duty Report

Three Rapids were out on international duty over the break:

  • Tim Howard - USA: Howard started both World Cup qualifiers for the U.S.  After not being particularly challenged in a shutout against Honduras he had more to do against Panama last night.  While he did allow one goal there wasn't much he could do about it and otherwise he put in a man of the match contending performance the rest of the way.  With the 4 points the Yanks are in 4th place in the Hex. 
  • Mekeil Williams - Trinidad & Tobago:  Williams also started both qualifiers for T&T.  Reportedly he had a solid performance in both games.  With the 1-0 win over Panama and the 1-0 loss to Mexico T&T is currently in last place in the Hex.  Next up, T&T will travel to the U.S. to face the Americans in a game that is highly rumored to be held at the Dick.  Easy travel for Howard and Williams.
  • Kevin Doyle - Ireland: Doyle was an unused sub in Ireland's scoreless qualifier against Wales.  He then started their friendly against Ireland where he had a good 90 minutes.  Ireland loss 1-0.

Monday, March 27, 2017

AWOL Offense

Let's talk about the elephant in the room (or on the field).  The complete lack of offensive attack from the Rapids.  Under Pablo Colorado has never been an offensive juggernaut, with the worst 3 year total of goals scored in team history and 2 of the 3 worst individual seasons (in goals/game).  At least last year that was buttressed by one of the best defensive seasons in league history which made for good results if not exciting play.

So far this year though we're reaching a new low in offensive output.  This is best seen by looking at our last game against the woeful Minnesota United.  In their 3 MLS games against teams other than the Rapids they've allowed 16 goals (5, 6, and 5) and 20 shots on target.  The Rapids managed 2 goals and 3 shots on target.  That includes the last 20 minutes of the game where the Rapids were playing up a man, at home, and manged a single shot right at the goalkeeper.

Lest you think this was just a bad game look at the combined stats so far this season.  We are averaging 7.3 shots and 2 shots on target per game.  Last year, where we averaged barely over a goal a game, we averaged 12.7 shots and 4.4 shots on goal per game.  Essentially our already anemic offense has dropped by 50% this season.  As you can figure out yourself, this is not a recipe for success.

This isn't much of a surprise.  In the offseason we let 6 goals, 8 assists, and 23 shots on target, approximately 6 games of offense, go and replaced it with Alan Gordon who averaged half a goal and a shot on goal every 90 minutes last year,  Pablo talked a lot in preseason about changing the team's attacking mentality this year so that must of been the plan for this season.  He seems frustrated its not working yet.

Barring this being an unexpectedly bad run of play (and I  don't think it is) there is really only one solution in my opinion.  Adding offensive talent.  Inside MLS that would require a trade and I'm not sue we have a player that would bring us starting attacking talent that we can afford to spare, other than MacMath.  The window for outside talent is still open for a few weeks but being realistic there's probably not a lot of talent willing to move at this point in the season.  We're probably going to have to ride this out until the summer window and expect the Front Office to have seen the issue and have a major signing lined up for July.  Otherwise this appears like its going to be a very long season.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

I've Been A Wild Rover For Many A Year...

...And I've spent all my money on this seat right here
There's no point in saving for a rainy day
Cause I'll be a wild Rover till my dying day
And it's no nay never
No nay never no more
Cause I'll stay a wild Rover forever and more
(sung to Wild Rover)

Sorry for the silence but I've been out of the country for most  of the last two weeks.  On Saturday I was at Ewood Park in Blackburn to see Blackburn Rovers in person for the first time.  The opponent for this Championship match was another Lancashire team, Preston North End.  While not Rovers dreaded rival Burnley it was a local derby and the travelling fans were there in force as well.

Sadly Blackburn gave up the equalizer in the last minute of stoppage for a 2-2 draw (the same score the Rapids game would have later that day).  I'm really glad I made the trip to northwest England for this game.  Not only because I'm a Rovers fan but I enjoyed seeing what most people think of as the roots of the game.

Despite Rovers' historic success Ewood Park is no DSG Park and Blackburn is never going to be Arsenal or Chelsea.  Blackburn is a town of about 100K somewhat out of the way in England.  For the most part the supporters of Rovers are local fans or fans who have some ties to the local area (though the season ticket holder sitting next to me told me there was a Norwegian sitting in my seat a few weeks earlier).  I saw a very loud five to six thousand Preston fans filling up the Darwen end and I heard the Blackburn supporters overcome them after a rough start.

Ewood Park has one large video screen in the corner between the Riverside Stand and the Darwen End that showed the lineups and the score.  Occasionally it would show a replay but only on goals, close misses, and the very occasional foul.  Other than that the stadium has a small board on the Darwen End that showed the current score and minute (no seconds, just the minute).  That was it for displays.  Much different than the Dick that has the electronic board around the top of the whole stadium along with the video board on one end and the score/time board on the other.  Also my seat was literally an arm's length from the Preston subs.  I can't imagine ever getting that close to players in-game in the U.S.  Of course when the team has played home games on the same spot for 135 years like Blackburn has, some things are done because they've always been done that way.

I've included some more  pictures from the game below.  I'll get back to some commentary on the hot mess that is the Rapids right now in the next few days.  With the international break and the rescheduled Dallas match we have more than two weeks until our next game action so there's plenty of time to talk about what's working and what really isn't.

The River Darwen and the Riverside Stand

The Jack Walker statue, Blackburn's greatest supporter

The Blackburn End stand and the pregame festivities

Not exactly a C38 tailgate

 Panoramic from my seat

Preston's subs and assistant coaches

The Darwen End stand showing the two electronic boards in the stadium 

Both managers on the touchline

On Sunday we went to the National Football Museum in Manchester where I got my picture with the FA Cup and the EPL Trophy.  You're not allowed to lift the FA Cup but you can lift the EPL trophy.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Roster Status

MLS has posted a nice roster summary page that fills out the final details of our roster.  The main thing it answers is that we only have 6 international slots after our offseason trades.  This has led to the Rapids loaning Dennis Castillo out as he would be our seventh international player.  There's been no announcement beyond his status on that page as to where he's going, but I would assume Charlotte.  Apparently he hasn't left yet though, as Daniel Boniface tweeted that he was at practice yesterday.

Also over the weekend the Rapids announced they signed first round draft pick Sam Hamilton.  The only unsigned player at practice yesterday according to Boniface was draftee Jamie Siaj who's still recovering from his injury.  If/when he signs he would take one of the two remaining reserve roster spots.  There was also rumors late last week of defender Mike da Fonte of the Sacramento Republic moving to the Rapids.  He wasn't with the Republic this past weekend but he's not yet in Colorado.  If accurate he would presumably fill the other remaining reserve roster spot.

That leaves the two senior roster spots to fill.  With no international slot at the moment they would have to be filled with domestic players, but that could be changed with a trade (or if Sjoberg or Badji get their rumored green cards).  The most likely way of filling them right now then is a trade within the league.  There are no rumors of trades at the moment though.

Coverage will be a bit lighter for the next couple of weeks.  More details after that but I'll keep the blog updated as best I can with any news and results.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Rapids Start Ahead Of 2016 Pace

A very 2016 look brought a very 2016 result, a grinder kind of game for the 1-0 win and 3 points to start the season.  Last year Colorado opened the season in San Jose and lost by that same scoreline, so we're ahead of last year's pace at this point.

General Impressions:
  • This was a very 2016 game.  The starting 11 was straight out of 2016, the style was 2016, and the result was 2016.  But it was 3 points so I'm not going to complain (this week). :D
  • That said, there were a few tweaks.  Namely that the outside backs (Burch and Miller) were more involved in the attack than last year.  I'm not sure Miller particularly added much to the attack though.
  • Interesting goal by Badji.  After a Doyle shot off the post from a Powers free kick Watts tried(?) to put the ball back on net but ended up popping it straight up.  Badji was the first to rise and head it home.
  • Powers. is. not. a. #10.  He just isn't.  Quit putting him in a position he fails at.
  • Great to see Dillon Serna back already.  He got a deserved ovation from the crowd when he came in.
  • We've quietly got quite a youth movement going on.  5 of our starters were recent draftees plus MacMath, Miller, Serna, and Azira.  Add in Boateng, Ford, Perez, Hamilton, etc. and this team might be very good in a couple more seasons.
  • I'm a little surprised Boateng didn't get any time, just to get his first game out of the way.
  • It didn't feel like it but New England actually outshot us by one.  I think we were the more dangerous team though.
  • Other than on corners.  Those were...not good.
  • Couldn't ask for a better day for a home opener in March.  Of course we'll probably have another Mother's Day blizzard type game to make up for it.

Man of the Match: Axel Sjoberg.  I'm not going to disagree with MLS who put him on their Team of the Week today.  Any cross that came into the box from NE was cleared by Axel.  He completely removed their aerial game.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Starting With Jameson Night

If its Jameson it must be New England

Welcome back everyone, the 2017 season is here!  We start off with the New England Revolution, which means its Jameson Night (or Afternoon) at the tailgate.  Now in its 15th year (with a couple of gaps due to the unbalanced schedule) the Rapids are 7-4-1 all-time against the Revs when Jameson Night is held, but the one loss was the most recent edition in 2015.  We need to get back to our winning tradition tomorrow.  Kickoff is at 4pm so as always the tailgate starts 3 hours earlier at 1.  Same bat time, same bat place as last year.  Those who can't make it can watch it with Fleming and 'Celo on Altitude.

Player Availability:
Injury Report:
OUT: GK John Berner (wrist)
QUESTIONABLE: GK Tim Howard (right abductor); M Dillon Serna (knee)

No surprises here.  Because of the double GK injury the Independence's goalkeeper Cody Mizell has been loan to the Rapids for short-term cover.  While Howard and Serna are listed as questionable there's no chance we see them tomorrow.  Surprisingly Gashi is not on this list despite taking precautions with his Achilles this week.  NEw England is missing one midfielder due to injury.

Predicting the starting XI on opening day is always tricky, but here's my shot:

This seems to be pretty much what we were seeing in Arizona.  If Gashi can't go I expect we'll see Powers in his place.  The other question mark is Watts/Burling but Watts got more time with the "first team" in preseason so I'm going with him.  I think we'll see both Boateng and Gordon off the bench in this one.

Prediction: 1-0 win, goal by Gashi.  Season opener so I have to be positive but I wouldn't be shocked by a 0-0 draw.  I'm not concerned by New England's attack but I'm hopeful the home opener bounce and the power of Jameson will get us the three points.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Play It Again Sam - 2017 Season Preview

We're 72 hours from the first game being in the books so it much be season preview/prediction time.

The team hasn't changed much since 2016 and not at all since I wrote this a week and a half ago.  I won't repeat what I wrote there as far as our new additions.  It seems the plan this year is to repeat 2016 with an increased focus on attack.  The hope appears to be that Gashi, Doyle, Badji, Hairston, and company will step up another level and produce the missing goals from last year while the defense stays focused on repeating last year.

I think that's overly optimistic.  Last year we had a very good defense on the road and a historic defense at home.  That's hard to repeat even for a team with top players.  Our defense last year was greater than the sum of its parts.  We had career years from Burch, Azira, and Sjoberg (as short as his career has been so far) and one of Cronin's best seasons.  all that combined with GK of the year play from the combination of MacMath and Howard.  Add to that surprise early int eh year where I think a lot of teams overlooked us and momentum later in the year where we were flying high.  Those aren't pieces that come together in back to back years.

So I expect our defense to take a step back this season.  Not greatly, it should still be one of the tougher defenses in the league, but I don't expect to be setting records.  I don't expect an equal improvement form the offense to compensate though.  There's still nobody with that spark of creativity we can cont on game after game to generate opportunities.  I feel we're in for another season of low-scoring games but I fear that a number of those 1-0 wins will be 1-1 draws this year

With that, on to the annual predictions!

  • The Rapids will finish about 4th in the West with a point total around 50
  • We'll win the one-off playoff game at home but lose in the conference semifinals
  • Gashi will win the team Golden Boot with double-digit goals (barely)
  • We win the Rocky Mountain Cup
  • The Rapids make a move in the early season to add some offense, either a trade or a low-key signing
  • In the summer transfer window the team makes a bigger splash with a signing, possibly DP level
  • The Open Cup goes like the last couple of years where we beat a lower-league team (probably the Switchbacks) but lose when we face MLS competition
  • We're going to have one lousy stretch during the year.  Nothing like the end of 2014 but 4-5 games where the season appears to go south.  We recover in time to save our playoff spot though