Categorized | Game Previews

Rapids hope to shine in MLS opener

Posted on 15 April 2007 by Jeff Cann

Will extreme makeover produce results?

by Jeff Cann

Denver, CO April 6, 2006 — (ASN) During the off-season, the Colorado Rapids changed almost everything about their team. They changed their logo, team colors, stadium, website and roster. Gone are veterans like Clint Mathis and Joe Cannon, while other veterans like Greg Vanney and Zach Thornton are new arrivals to the team. The Rapids even managed to sign a marketing agreement with Arsenal, the English Premier League powerhouse.

MLS certainly seems to have rewarded the extreme makeover, as the Rapids will face D.C. United on the nationally televised MLS season-opening match from Dick’s Sporting Goods Park this Saturday at 1:30 p.m. (MT). The fact that the Rapids have an opening day home game is impressive. What’s more impressive is that it is against an excellent team such as United.


Let’s face facts: The Rapids offense has been missing in action over the past five years…


Yes, Virginia, these aren’t your father’s Black ‘n Blue Rapids. But as the saying goes, you can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig. Similarly, for all of the off-season excitement surrounding the Rapids, there remain many questions regarding their on-field ability to achieve the goal of winning an MLS Cup.

Here’s a preview of the 2007 Rapids:

Strikers
Let’s face facts: The Rapids offense has been missing in action over the past five years. This trend remains downward as they were second to last in MLS in 2006, scoring a paltry 36 goals in 32 games. Their opening-day opponent, D.C. United, scored 52 goals last year.

Featured striker Thiago Martins was released by the club. He was a valiant fighter but produced only 3 goals in 25 games. It appears that Herculez Gomez [acquired from the L.A. Galaxy in the Joe Cannon trade] and Niko Hernandez will shoulder the burden of goalscoring for the Rapids this season.

Midfielders
Recently, the Rapids traded the underachieving Mathis to the Red Bulls for a pair of draft picks. When they traded Jeff Cunningham to Real Salt Lake for Mathis last season, there were high hopes by fans that Mathis would regain the form he showed in the 2002 World Cup. Unfortunately, he appeared mostly disinterested on the field and his output was negligible.

Terry Cooke has been a fan favorite at crossing the ball. He tallied 12 assists in 23 games last year. His diminutive size can be defended against, but if left unmarked, he will find the open man.

The good news for the Rapids in 2006 is that Kyle Beckerman emerged as a legitimate offensive threat out of midfield. He and Hernandez led the team with seven goals each. If Beckerman develops better field vision and ball distribution, this could be a potent combination for the Rapids. It does appear, however, that the field general is not among the midfield roster.

Defenders
In 2004 and 2005, the glue that held the Rapids defense together was Nat Borchers. Last year, the team struggled without him, allowing a league-worst 49 goals.

Gone is Spaniard Aitor Karanka, who last year showed he could still play this man’s game. Despite his age, he logged the third highest number of minutes for the club in 2006 behind Beckerman and Hernandez. This year the responsibility will fall on veterans Pablo Mastroeni, Mike Petke, and Greg Vanney, who was acquired from FC Dallas in January. Young gun Ugo Ihemelu came over with Gomez in the Cannon trade with the Galaxy.

Goalkeepers
Cannon was probably one of the best keepers in Colorado history. He was voted on to the Rapids Best Ever XI and won the MLS Keeper of the Year in 2005. Probably the only reason the Rapids defense did not allow 70 goals last season was due to Cannon’s physical ability.

Fortunately for Zach Thornton, the improved defense – on paper, at least – should make his job easier. If Thornton gets injured, then excitable Bouna Condoul is ready to step in. It would not be good for the Rapids if Condoul played a lot of games due to his inexperience at the MLS level.

Summary
If history is any guide in other sports, a new uniform does well to improve the image and self-respect of a team. The Rapids have 32 games to prove that the Burgundy and Sky Blue are legitimate contenders.

Injury Report
Colorado Rapids – None

DC United – None

Jeff Cann can be reached at jcann@americansoccernews.net.
© Cann/Cyber Soccer Associates, LLC 2007

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