2013 in Review: Young Colorado Rapids surprise with run to playoffs, but still work to be done
Over the next two weeks, MLSsoccer.com will take a look back at the 2013 season that was for all 19 clubs in Major League Soccer, starting with D.C. United and ending with the Supporters' Shield-winning New York Red Bulls. You can find the schedule and comprehensive reviews for each team here.
2013 record: 14-11-9 (51 points); 45 GF / 38 GA (+8 GD)
It might not have ended the way they wanted, but 2013 was a season filled with pleasant surprise for the Colorado Rapids, who rode the play of several talented youngsters to earn the fifth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. Rookie of the Year Dillon Powers and runner-up Deshorn Brown provided instant impact, and the previously unknown goalkeeper Clint Irwin, along with youngsters Shane O’Neill and Chris Klute, helped the Rapids come into their own during the second half of the season.
Head coach Oscar Pareja’s up-tempo, possession-based attack grew as the season went along, and midseason acquisitions Gabriel Torres and Vicente Sanchez were valuable down the stretch in helping Colorado return to the postseason after a disappointing 2012.
With an extra year of seasoning and added depth at a few positions, the Rapids could be legitimate title contenders in 2014.
Best Moment of the Year
Everything came together on Oct. 5 when Colorado throttled the Seattle Sounders 5-1. Brown’s opener 14 seconds in – yes, seconds – set the tone for an end-to-end destruction at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. It was the team’s best performance of the season and best summed up what Pareja wants to see out of his young squad.
Worst Moment of the Year
The 2-0 Knockout Round loss to Seattle on Oct. 30 showed exactly what the Rapids need to work on moving forward: avoiding slow starts, particularly on the road, and finding ways to win “ugly” games. The starting lineup, notably, missed Powers and Sanchez, who were both nursing injuries (Sanchez subbed in during the second half).
From the timing of the goal to the goal itself, there’s little question on this one. With the Rapids clinging onto the fifth and final playoff spot in the West and in their penultimate match of the regular seasono on Oct. 19, Colorado were level with the Whitecaps 2-2 at home in the 77th minute when Torres cut inside from the left and unleashed an unstoppable upper-90 blast, giving his side all three points. Without that highlight-reel goal from the newly acquired Designated Player, the Rapids wouldn’t have made the postseason.
The whole point of Pareja’s team-first mentality is that there isn’t necessarily a set MVP or go-to player. But without Irwin’s early season heroics stepping in for the injured Matt Pickens, it’s hard to see how the Rapids would’ve made the playoffs this season. Irwin not only filled in admirably for Pickens while the veteran nursed a broken forearm, the 24-year-old unseated the veteran from his starting role altogether, making Pickens’ departure a near certainty.
The obvious candidate is the selection of Powers with 11th-overall SuperDraft pick out of Notre Dame, but the overlooked midseason acquisition of Sanchez was a stroke of genius from technical director Paul Bravo and the front office. The veteran Uruguayan provided creativity and consistently drew defenders playing along the wing, giving his teammates space to open up. His experience in the Champions League and playing internationally also came in handy for the otherwise youthful Rapids.
"[In the preseason], the expectation for us was to fight and to get into the playoffs, and that's when all hell broke loose. There were some very tough moments. It turned out that our philosophy we were going to have to implement it a little quicker than we thought with the inclusion of a lot of the young players, and from that point on, it started to blossom." – Technical Director Paul Bravo
Three Offseason Needs
1. Right back: Marvell Wynne never looked fully comfortable transitioning from center to right back, and Pareja appeared to feel the same way, moving the veteran in and out of the lineup. That position will likely be addressed this offseason.
2. Defensive depth: While solid for most of the season, the defense showed leaks as it drew to a close. O’Neill has made it clear he prefers a move to the midfield from his spot in central defense, and Diego Calderon returned to his native Ecuador. German Mera was inconsistent as a fill in, helping make defensive depth a priority for Bravo & Co.
3. Another striker: For Pareja’s possession-based 4-3-3, strikers who can finish in front of goal are a priority. The Rapids think they have their answer there in the well-regarded August acquisition of Torres (pictured right). Still, Edson Buddle couldn’t stay healthy, and while highly impressive overall in his rookie campaign, Brown had trouble finishing at times.
Chris Bianchi covers the Colorado Rapids for MLSsoccer.com.