2012 was not a very good year for the Rapids. The optimism of a new coach bringing in a new system quickly faded into what may have been the longest footy summer of my life; it’s hard to watch the club you love fail to perform to what you think their potential is.
Some fans were crying for coach Oscar Pareja’s job as soon as the first loss. Those initial and seemingly irrational cries grew to a dull roar by the end of the season, but one factor seems to be overlooked in the failures of last season: Pareja didn’t have the personnel he needed to make his attack-centered 4-3-3 work. Whether this is blamed on Oscar not having the ability to make the signings he needed to fill out his squad, or the squad he had available not working with the system he wanted to play, or just plain being plagued by injuries doesn’t really matter. If you need proof that personnel issues were at play, you needn’t look further than this off-season’s roster overhaul.
It became apparent that big changes were on the way when the Rapids released a huge block of players in November. “Fan favorite” and long time club fixture Conor Casey, along with Edu, third string keeper Ian Joyce, Tyrone “I get a yellow every match” Marshall, Joseph Nane, Scott Palguta and fairly recent signings Tyson Wahl and Luis Zapata were all gone in the first cut. We declined Hunter Freeman’s option (I was a little bummed about that one, honestly), and before people were even done crying over the loss of Casey, we also traded Omar Cummings. Before people were done crying about THAT, we traded the Ginger Ninja, Jeff Larentowicz. I somehow managed to remain in a very zen place throughout all of this upheaval, feeling that we had unloaded a lot of dead weight and left plenty of room for growth.
Some of the Rapids’ off-season signings are clear replacements for players that were traded away, but we have also stacked up some impressive midfield depth, returning to the theme of Oscar Pareja building the squad he needs to play the attacking football he wants to play. Colorado added Atiba Harris, Edson Buddle, Nathan Sturgis, Kevin Harbottle, Dillon Powers, Nick LaBrocca, Charles Eloundou, DeShorn Brown and home-grown Dillon Serna to their existing stock of mids and forwards, along with much needed CB Diego Calderón to replenish our depleted backline.
With all the roster changes, speculating on hypothetical line ups becomes a challenge. The Rapids’ pre-season was pretty dismal, and we’re starting the season short some big names due to injury. Crucial playmaker Martin Rivero is expected to miss several more weeks of play with a broken foot; Jaime Castrillon is out until June after undergoing knee surgery. Those who speculated Buddle’s signing was over-hyped due to his injury-prone nature surely smirked when he picked up a pre-season injury (he’s expected to be fit by opening day, but I’m not personally confident he’ll stay fit for long).
Despite all the changes and uncertainty, I’m approaching the season with cautious optimism. We have a lot of new, young talent and a few veterans (Guys! Pablo Mastroeni is back!) to guide them, and I think it all adds up to Pareja now having the squad he needs to make his system work. If these players, who are individually talented, can click and play as a cohesive unit, I think we’ll have a successful year. I don’t think there is a lot of silverware in our immediate future, but I think this year will definitely be better than last year, and I think we can build something that will continue to grow into the next several years. I think we will squeak into the playoffs; whether we can do anything with that, who knows. I think we have the depth to make a legitimate US Open Cup push, and I think that we should do so. I also think that if the Rapids can bring the Rocky Mountain Cup home this season (and with home field advantage twice this year, we absolutely can and should) that almost any other failure could be forgiven.
On the supporters’ end of things, former supporters groups Class VI, BSG, and Pid Army have been hard at work this offseason merging into one mighty SG, Centennial 38. We have big plans for this season, starting with a party at The Armoury in Denver to watch our beloved Rapids start the season right with three points against FC Dallas this Saturday, March 2nd. We’d love to have you join us! Find us on Facebook or twitter at @C38sg for more info.
After months of lamenting “Is it March yet!?,” it finally is, and I couldn’t be more excited to get this season started. It’s go time! Glory, glory Colorado!
(image courtesy of Garrett Ellwood/Colorado Rapids)