Rapids flatten to close seasonBy pshea • Nov 19th, 2009 • Category: Features
The Colorado Rapids played with unprecedented consistency in 2009, but as the season reached its conclusion, the team lost all of its attacking flank players. Terry Cooke was waived at the end of July to make room for Jamie Smith on the same part of the field. Smith played in only four games before injuring his left knee, which required posterior lateral stabilization surgery before fans could recognize his potential. In early August, Colin Clark tore his left ACL in practice. Then Jacob Peterson tore his right ACL while taking a shot during a midweek game against San Jose on September 23.
Despite Conor Casey‘s franchise record of 16 goals in a season, an incredibly productive year for Omar Cummings (eight goals, 12 assists), and a full complement of attacking defenders who didn’t send the ball into the stands every other play, the Rapids limped through the final games with insufficient ammunition when the stakes were highest. They maintained a shot at the playoffs all season long. Then they lost all their creative players on the wings, tied four of their final seven games, and lost the other three.
“Firstly, it was a huge disappointment the way the season finished,” said Colorado head coach Gary Smith a few days before the MLS Cup Final. “Not just the last game, but the last four or five games. I don’t think it was a reflection of what the group is capable of and how well they conducted themselves throughout the season.”
Finishing with 40 points (10-10-10), Colorado was not in the cellar, but they ended up sitting on the dusty staircase with only five teams below them.
“I’ve had time to emotionally calm down and look at the season with more clarity,” Smith continued. “I was extremely pleased with the way the team showed more consistency for a longer period of time — with our home form, [DSGP record of 8-2-5] and with the way that for a good period of the season we looked bright and purposeful and a goal threat. For a good period, we were difficult to play against. Sadly, everyone will remember the last four or five games of the season, which I think clouds everybody’s judgment.”
The team is due back for training in late January and will start preseason soon thereafter. In the meantime, Smith recently watched collegiate players (ACC and Big East) and will be in discussions with players and agents in the coming weeks.
“This year more than last,” Smith explained, “it’s about strengthening. Our first 11 are fit and extremely competitive. But when we lost a couple players, we were unable to maintain the same style of football. Next year we’re looking toward having more strength.”
Smith predicted that Jamie Smith will be ready at the start of preseason. Clark will train during preseason, but he might not be physically and mentally ready for the start of the season. Jacob Peterson probably won’t be able to train until April.
End-of-season player ratings
- Matt Pickens, 6. Pickens was a consistent shot-blocker with good communication and distribution.
- Preston Burpo, 5. Burpo maintained a decent level when he filled in for Pickens.
- Cory Gibbs, 5. After a promising start to the season, Gibbs never fully recovered from a midseason injury.
- Julien Baudet, 5. Baudet wasn’t perfect, but he added a tough edge in the back and bravely returned from a nasty injury with reduced recovery time.
- Scott Palguta, 5. Palguta emerged as a steady and reliable back.
- Jordan Harvey, 7. Harvey was 87 minutes shy of a full season, the only Rapids player to take the field for all 30 games. Harvey registered three assists, but his greatest contributions include flexibility (outside defender and midfielder), consistency with the ball, intelligent defending, and durability.
- Michael Holody, 5. Holody has the size, strength, and skill that Smith looks for in a defender.
- Ugo Ihemelu, 6. The Ihemelu/Moor trade will probably prove to be more of an equitable swap than the Beckerman/Ballouchy trade. Ihemelu was tough in the air, athletic, and competitive.
- Drew Moor, 6. Smart and physically capable in the back, Moor adds quality to the Colorado attack as well.
- Pablo Mastroeni, 6. Mastroeni fulfilled his role as captain and looked more mature this season. But he’ll need some more attacking stars around him if he wants to win an MLS Cup.
- Colin Clark 6. Clark was the most consistent bright spot for Colorado, the player who drew attention from fans and defenders every time he touched the ball. Strangely, his rising success may have been his downfall. He earned a chance to collect Nat caps, but then he atrophied on the U.S. bench and injured himself in practice when he returned to Colorado.
- Nick LaBrocca, 6. LaBrocca maintained his subtle consistency in Colorado’s midfield, a workman with a nose for the ball.
- Greg Dalby, 4. Dalby didn’t sparkle when given the chance, a requirement for a player with his bench position. He might not move off the bench more unless he picks up his play.
- Jamie Smith, NR. He showed potential, but he wasn’t on the field enough to see how he’ll fit in with the team.
- Jacob Peterson, 5. Peterson stepped up his game when Clark and Smith were out, working relentlessly while creating attacks.
- Kosuke Kimura, 7. Kimura deserves credit for securing a spot in the back and then earning the respect of the coaching staff and moving up to wing/midfield at a time when Harvey shifted up the left side. Both players deserve extra credit for stepping up.
- Pat Noonan, 5. Noonan pulled everything out of his toolbox to help Smith and the Rapids. He worked up front when he arrived, but he helped out in midfield when required as well.
- Mehdi Ballouchy, 5. Ballouchy elevated his play this year, but he’ll need to continue improving if he wants to gain dominance in MLS midfields.
- Omar Cummings, 7. Cummings showed leadership throughout the season with streaky results and consistent effort. He didn’t miss as many games as fellow forward Conor Casey, but not all of his games were exceptional either. Still, he anchored the attack all year long.
- Conor Casey, 8. Casey set a scoring record while showing an unflinching approach to scoring goals against anyone he faced this summer (international and MLS games).
- Facundo Diz, 4. Performing the role of miracle-maker is not an easy task, but Diz might be successful next year instead.
Smith’s view of MLS Cup 2009
“I think for purely selfish reasons,” Smith said. “I’d like to see L.A. win it. And that boils down to the fact that Salt Lake are our closest rival and of course we got beat by them at the end of the season, so there’s some sour grapes in there as well. The season that Bruce Arena and the L.A. group have had has been absolutely terrific. In my opinion, he is the worthy winner of the coach of the year.”
Smith continued, “But Salt Lake did it the hard way, beating Columbus over two legs, a team that over the course of the season was the best team of the league. And to beat Chicago again. If you hit form at the right time, on any given day you’ve got lads who are capable of changing a game.”
Smith ultimately sees an edge for the Galaxy because “the way that the two DPs are playing in LA in the last month or more has been a big difference in the fortunes of L.A. As long as they’re both fit, you’re going to see two individuals that are really the highest caliber of players in the league right now. Both David Beckham and Landon Donovan in their own right are hugely capable of winning games. It gives L.A. an edge.”