During the 67th minute of their season-opener on February 29, Colorado Rapids’ forward Kei Kamara bashed in the game-tying goal against D.C. United to tie the game, 1-1. In the 91st minute, Colorado forward Jonathan Lewis collected the rebound and seamed the ball into the net to complete the comeback win.
In their first home match of the 2020 campaign on March 7, the Rapids capitalized first, as midfielder Younes Namli found a window between two Orlando City SC defenders and put Colorado up 1-0 during the 63rd minute. While Orlando City was able to tie the match in the 82nd minute, the Rapids were able to, yet again, coordinate on offense late in the match. With a perfectly placed Drew Moor header goal off a corner kick in the 89th minute, the Rapids would reclaim the lead and hold it to clinch the win.
2-0. A 2-0 record to start the season for the first time since their 2012 campaign.
Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, two matches would be the only visual evidence Major League Soccer (MLS) fans would get to witness of the rejuvenation of Colorado, a franchise that has only scratched out one 50-plus point season in the past six seasons and only two in their entire franchise history, dating back to its inaugural season in 1996.
Colorado’s attempt at rejuvenation, from the top of the front office with Executive Vice President and General Manager Padraig Smith (hired in 2018), to the coaching staff spearheaded by Robin Fraser (hired in 2019), boils down to retooling and reinforcing different parts of the roster in pieces, one area at a time.
The first area of need came on offense. After scoring only 36 goals in the 2018 campaign (ranking last among 23 clubs in that category), spark plugs to restart an anemic offense were heavily sought after.
Heavily sought after, though, would be a stark understatement.
From a combination of the trading wire and draft board, Colorado brought in Kamara (via trade), forward Diego Rubio (via trade), forward Andre Shinyashiki (via draft) and utility player Nicolas Mezquida (via trade). Collectively, these four players would become the key building blocks toward transforming Colorado’s offense into a more efficient unit. During the 2019 season, Kamara’s 14 goals, Rubio’s 11 and Shinyashiki’s seven ranked first, second and third on the team. Shinyashiki’s explosive burst onto the scene even netted him the 2019 MLS Rookie of the Year Award, which was the first time a Colorado player brought home the hardware since midfielder Dillon Powers in 2013.
The transformation on offense would not solely come from goals scored. When looking at shots on goal, acquisitions would again hoard the top echelon of the statistic sheets on the Rapids roster. Kamara, Mezquida and Shinyashiki would be the top shooters on the team, as they shot 44, 27 and 19 times toward the net, respectively. Mezquida’s game-winning goals (three), for good measure, would also be first on the team.
With a flick of a switch, the sparkplugs would make their presence known. Colorado’s 58 goals scored in 2019 would tie the club for third in all of MLS with Atlanta United FC., Philadelphia Union and LA Galaxy. Los Angeles Football Club (LAFC) and New York City FC would be the only clubs to score more goals than the Rapids (85 and 63, respectively).
Offensively, the rejuvenation was readily noticeable.
Defensively, the 2019 Rapids would concede 63 goals, which was third worst among all MLS teams (FC Cincinnati and Sporting Kansas City would concede 75 and 67 goals, respectively). Even though additional support on offense was added during the season (in the form of forward Jonathan Lewis), a porous backline and leaky goaltending would cause Colorado to stumble to a 12-16-6 record and a ninth-place finish in the Western Conference.
Piece by piece, after reinforcing offense the offseason before, defense would become the next priority. Acquisitions in the form of Moor (free agent signing), defender Auston Trusty (via trade from the Union), Namli (international loan) and midfielder Nicolas Benezet (transfer) would help build depth and create more defensive savviness in the attacking and defending zones of the pitch. Additionally, the addition of William Yarbrough would act as supplemental depth after goalkeeper Tim Howard announced 2019 would be his last year in MLS. Combined with Fraser wanting to clean up all aspects on defense, the Rapids were looking to put it all together for the 2020 season.
Through two games, it looked like there would be a glimpse of that new and improved Colorado team. With a positive goal differential of +2 (four goals for and two goals allowed), the rejuvenation was becoming a reality, small sample size be damned.
Should MLS resume this season, Colorado will look to continue that rejuvenation on all sides of the pitch. Through a steady process, offense and defense was addressed. Now, it is time to see the results match in and match out.