2013 MLSsoccer.com Preview: Revamped Rapids set to compete

The changes, storylines, review of the offseason ahead of the March 2 season opener

2012 record: 11-19-4 (37 points); 44 GF / 50 GA (-6 GD)

2012 Colorado Rapids statistics

2012 in Review: Colorado Rapids

Q&A with Rapids head coach Oscar Pareja

Opta Spotlight: Why Rivero is the key to the 4-3-3

Armchair Analyst: Pain, progress for Colorado

WATCH: Colorado Rapids' 2012 goals

WATCH: Colorado Rapids' 2012 defensive plays


Over the next two weeks, MLSsoccer.com will preview each of the 19 teams in Major League Soccer, beginning with the clubs that brought up the bottom of the table in 2012 and ending with the Supporters' Shield-winning San Jose Earthquakes. This is part one of two previewing Colorado's 2013 season. You can find Part 2 here.

Setting the Scene

The Colorado Rapids entered 2012 with a revamped front office and a new skipper on the sidelines, but after an auspicious beginning, a glut of injuries and tactical struggles led to a season-defining 0-6-0 July and a seventh-place Western Conference finish.

WATCH: Pareja on Rapids' offseason changes

 

In 2013, more change is already in store, but this time it will be more on the field rather than off. The Rapids parted ways with veterans Conor Casey, Omar Cummings and Jeff Larentowicz this offseason, electing to bring in US national team striker Edson Buddle, Ecuadorian defender Diego Calderon and Chilean winger Kevin Harbottle, among others.

Head coach Oscar Pareja is hoping a deeper and younger squad will be better able to handle injuries and better adapt to his possession-based 4-3-3, an attack-minded scheme. Also, Pablo Mastroeni’s surprising return to the pitch brings an added on-field leadership dimension that often lacked in 2012.

If Pareja and technical director Paul Bravo can uncover more South American gems like Martin Rivero, along with improving last year’s leaky defense, Colorado could once again contend for a playoff spot in 2013.

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In and Out

IN: M/F Atiba Harris (12/3/12 - trade from Vancouver), M Eric Avila (12/14/12 - Re-Entry Draft Stage 2), F Edson Buddle (12/14/12 - trade from LA Galaxy), M Nathan Sturgis (12/23/12 - trade from Houston), D Diego Calderón (1/3/12 - transfer from LDU Quito), F Kevin Harbottle (1/17/12 - free transfer from Universidad Católica), D DeShorn Brown (1/17/12 - SuperDraft), M Dillon Powers (1/17/13 - SuperDraft), M Dillon Serna (1/18/12 - Homegrown), M Nick LaBrocca (1/22/13 - trade from Chivas USA), F Charles Eloundou (1/25/13 - weighted lottery)

OUT: F Conor Casey (11/16/12 - option declined), M Edu (11/16/12), GK Ian Joyce (11/16/12 - option declined), D Tyrone Marshall (11/16/12 - out of contract), M Joseph Nane (11/16/12 - option declined), D Scott Palguta (11/16/12 - out of contract), D Tyson Wahl (11/16/12 - option declined), D Luis Zapata (11/16/12 - option declined), D Hunter Freeman (12/3/12 - option declined), F Omar Cummings (12/23/12 - trade to Houston), M Jeff Larentowicz (1/16/13 - trade to Chicago), M Eric Avila (1/22/13 - trade to Chivas USA)

READ: 2013 Colorado Rapids Depth Chart

Star Attraction: Edson Buddle

Buddle may have returned a smidge too early from his June knee surgery, recording just one goal in seven appearances for the Galaxy last year after going under the knife. The striker, who was acquired from the Galaxy in December for a first-round Supplemental Draft selection and allocation money, is still battling knee problems and is a doubt for the Rapids’ March 2 opener.

Nonetheless, the Rapids believe Buddle can return to his prolific goal-scoring ways of 2010, when he scored 17 goals in just 25 games and earned a call up to the US World Cup squad in South Africa.

READ: Rapids rave about Harbottle: "People are gonna like this kid"

Unsung Hero: Pablo Mastroeni

The 36-year-old (below, left) missed the final 32 games of 2012 with concussion-like symptoms, but in December he surprisingly announced that he would return to the field in 2013. And that’s a big boost to the Rapids, who suffered at times from a lack of veteran leadership in 2012. Mastroeni will wear the armband once again in 2013 and pair with Hendry Thomas to form, on paper, one of the league’s better holding midfield tandems.

Ready for Primetime: Martin Rivero

For the Rapids to have any success in 2013, Rivero has to be the clever creator that allowed him lead the team in assists and take the majority of the team’s set pieces in 2012. Rivero’s 2013, however, hasn’t gotten off to an ideal start. The Argentine broke his foot in the preseason opener and is expected to be out 2-3 months, although recent indications are that he could be back sooner than that. But if he can recover and discover chemistry with Buddle and others, the slick-passing 23-year-old could be primed to explode onto the MLS scene.

Storylines to Watch

1. Will the shift to 4-3-3 start to pay dividends? 2012 could largely be summed up as a transition year for the Rapids. Pareja’s emphasis on possession was a huge contrast to previous coach Gary Smith’s more linear approach, and it often showed. Pareja was hired only weeks before 2012 preseason training and didn’t have the players he needed to properly execute his vision, and that was a big part of the reason the Rapids ultimately missed the postseason for the first time in three years. But after a busy, transaction-heavy offseason which saw several big names pack their bags, the time is now for Pareja and the Rapids to show that their new system can work.

2. Will that busy offseason be as fruitful as the Rapids hope? Pareja has made it clear in his 13 months in charge that no position on the field is guaranteed. He wants 18 players that can start, and he constantly wants competitive practices and positional battles. Will the new-found depth help Colorado avoid a lengthy losing spell similar to the mid-season 2-11-1 streak which ruined their 2012?

READ: Rapids expect recovering Buddle to be ready for opener

What He Said

“I was ready to retire probably in June or July of last year. [But] buying that time allowed me to kind of re-evaluate my situation. The light bulb clicked, and it was like, ‘I can really do this again. And not only can I do this again, but I want to do this again.’”

– Rapids captain Pablo Mastroeni on his decision to return

SEE: 2013 Season Preview Archive

If Everything Goes Right

Far more prepared this season for injuries and also armed with players more suited to the style Pareja wants, the Rapids need to develop into the type of high-pressure, flexible side that can dictate the tempo week after week.

But the key to a fun summer in Commerce City will be on the defensive side of the ball. Only one player from the back four will return to his original position - Drew Moor at center back – while Marvell Wynne will shifted to the right and Anthony Wallace returns from injury to likely take over at left back. Calderon will pair with Moor in the middle as the Rapids look to improve set piece and transition defense, two points of considerable struggle a year ago.

If Buddle stays healthy and the defense improves, a three- or four-spot in the Western Conference could be achievable for Pareja’s squad.