Quite a few teams over the off season went through a radical transformation. The Portland Timbers, obviously, were one such team. Another was the Colorado Rapids, however. After winning the MLS Cup in 2010, they went on to have a very lackluster 2012. Since then their head coach Oscar Pareja has torn up the squad, removed some key players, and brought in some others.
To help us figure out how this new team stacks up to the old, I spoke with UZ of SB Nation's Colorado Rapids blog Burgundy Wave:
Can you describe what Colorado has done in the off season? What's different with the team? Who are the new additions?
Just about everything is different with this team. Oscar Pareja took the scraps that Gary Smith left him, dropped a couple of them in 2012 and then threw all the bathwater out, baby in tow, after that season ended up being a wash. Gone are guys like Casey, Cummings, Larentowicz, Marshall, the ol' Gary Smith grit. The team in 2013 is filled with solid youth players now, and all of the guys on the squad are guys that Pareja thinks can play at a starter's level if thrust into a game. Two new homegrown guys have been added in Dillon Serna and Shane O'Neill, who were both on that U-20's team that we were all watching a few weeks ago. They drafted three quality rookies in the draft. They picked up guys like Kevin Harbottle, a 22-year-old Chilean star in the making. They added a few veterans as well like Edson Buddle, but the theme of the off-season was youth and depth, and the squad actually looks pretty solid in that department.
Looking to their first couple games, Colorado has not had an easy time of it so far this season. What do you attribute this to? How does Colorado right the ship?
Prior to the season, I said that this struck me as a team that would probably be really darn good in 2014 or 2015, but would probably struggle a bit because of youth and chemistry issues until then. Lo and behold, it's been mostly bad finishing and chemistry that has kept Colorado out of the win column despite two very, very good performances to start the year. The team has the talent to play solid, possession soccer with plenty of chance creation, but the finishing has been horrid at times and they've been dealing with injuries. Oh boy, have they been dealing with injuries. As of this writing, six starters are currently out with long term injuries, and Drew Moor's red card against LA will make it seven. Pareja has been forced to play an unfortunate amount of youngsters without some of his veteran talent to balance it out, which has led to mid-game tactical changes, bad mistakes and other things that tend to cause losses, not wins.
Also, in the first two games of the season, our goalkeepers forgot how exactly to play goalkeeper. That probably didn't help matters any.
The Rapids have not had a short of impact-makers in the past, but it's a new season. Who should Timbers' fans look out for, why are they dangerous? Conversely, who would be the "weak link" in the starting XI?
Deshorn Brown is the man to keep your eye on. He's a rare breed at center forward -- both incredibly strong and incredibly fast. He's already shown a killer instinct several times this year, albeit with some questionable finishing, but as he continues to get better, he's going to get more and more dangerous. Portland would do well to double cover him if he's racing at them. Also watch for performances from Kevin Harbottle -- assuming he isn't played out of position as a CAM again (he probably will be, so nevermind that) -- and our second year man Tony Cascio, who has quietly impressed in some bench appearances so far this season.
Colorado has currently taken 12 of a total 15 points in all meetings between the two sides in regular season play. 9 of those points came at home and in each case Colorado scored 3 times. What do you attribute these past victories to? Are you expecting a similar result?
I'm really not sure, just some sort of weird hoodoo where the Timbers forget to play defense every time they go into Dick's Sporting Goods Park, I suppose. Considering how bad the Rapids team was last year, even I was surprised that they handled Portland so handily twice in 2012. Because of the fact that Colorado's lineup is so broken down and will be so filled with inexperience on Saturday, I would be absolutely flabbergasted if the Rapids picked up another three goal win -- though, if the talented but inconsistent offense finally clicks together, anything's possible.
Predicted starting line up?
Projected Starting Lineup: 4-3-3: Clint Irwin; Brian Mullan, Marvell Wynne, Shane O'Neill, Chris Klute; Hendry Thomas, Dillon Powers, Kevin Harbottle; Deshorn Brown, Edson Buddle, Tony Cascio
Big thanks, once again, to UZ for taking time to answer my questions. You can read more about the Colorado Rapids at SB Nation's Burgundy Wave.
What do you think of the Colorado Rapids team the Timbers will face Saturday?