Who do you see in the starting XI for First Kick?
If the line-up isn’t the exact same basic defensive 4-4-2 that we saw for the MLS Cup final I will be amazed. Matt Pickens will continue to man the goal as the Rapids really have no viable other options, with the back four of Anthony Wallace - Drew Moor - Marvell Wynne - Kosuke Kimura. Pablo Mastroeni and Jeff Larentowicz will hold the middle of midfield while Casey and Cummings will be the strikers up top. The interesting question is who will start on the wings. With Brian Mullan’s advancing age he may be usurped from his starting spot by Sanna Nyassi or Wells Thompson if either of them outshow him in preseason. Jamie Smith will no doubt remain the left midfielder, his service is the best on the team; a very important assett on a team that utilizes strikers as much as the Rapids do.
Which new player(s) will have biggest impact?
Most likely, Nyassi. The band is very much still together from last season and of all the offseason moves he is the most likely to contribute on the first team on anything resembling a regular basis. If the Rapids would go ahead and sign Caleb Folan already, I could probably say him since he would immediately be the late in the game striker substitute with Mac Kandji still out.
Which player(s) loss will be felt the most?
The only real loss the Rapids had over the offseason was Julien Baudet, our coveted big defender who created chaos in the box. They replaced him with Tyrone Marshall but the intangible things that Baudet brought to the pitch such as a very vocal and spirited attitude on the field of play might be the biggest losses.
At what point is this season considered success?
Colorado front office member Jeff Plush said it best, the Rapids want to be greedy. The fanbase will consider this season a success if they manage to get some Silverware. The Open Cup, another MLS Championship, even a chance at the Supporters' Shield would do it. As long as there is another shined trophy on our mantle at the end of the season it will be a success. We know now that this team is good enough to win trophies.
Whose performance do you think will be most indicative of the season as a whole?
Colorado obviously added some pep to their offense when they added Nyassi and probably Folan to the mix, but Gary Smith’s system will still run through his strikers. The team tends to go as the Casey/Cummings tandem goes - you will most likely see no members of this team who aren’t strikers scoring more than four or five goals - and they will probably need to score a combined 30 goals again in order to keep the team in the upper echelons of the league. Unless Nyassi, Smith, Mullan or Thompson suddenly become spitfires from the wings the team will need every goal from them that they get. With both seeming to get better every year they play together, it shouldn’t be a problem for the Rapids.
What’s to stop this team from turning back into the team that swooned through summer last season?
Quite simply - and I still think that most people have not realized this - this is not the same team that the Rapids were in mid-2010. Since Mehdi Ballouchy and Colin Clark were traded for Kandji and Mullan, the team had a new-found ability both on the pitch and mentally within themselves. Nothing establishes that point more than the last few games of the season and playoffs. Before the two trades the Rapids had gone several seasons without coming back from a deficit to win a game, a statistic which stunk up the atmosphere every time the Rapids went down. They never won games when they conceded first and you could tell the team knew that stat was on their backs every game. After the trade, they finally broke that terrible streak, against the LA Galaxy IN LA of all places! They came back against Columbus in the playoffs to force penalties and win that playoff game. They came back in the MLS Cup Final against a team that was supposed to be the best in the league at holding a lead, FC Dallas. This is and has been a new Rapids team with a new mentality and they will not be the same on and off team from last year.
What’s the biggest weakness of this team?
The strength of the team is the fact that while it is not a group of Super Stars put together with random other players acting as glue like New York, every player has good talent and very few weaknesses to exploit. The biggest problem with the team is most likely the exploitable nature of the left side. Left Back Wallace showed some fantastic stuff last season but is very clearly still young and learning the ways of the game. After all, it was his terrible coverage that allowed such an easy goal for David Ferreira in the final. Smith will start in left midfield as well, the worst midfielder on the team by far in terms of defending. If a team wants to try and get a quick goal on the Rapids, it would suit them best to attack from the left.
- Report by Chris "UZ" White of Burgundy Wave (Colorado Rapids blog)