COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – If Colorado Rapids president Tim Hinchey has his way, the team that started 2012 as the second-oldest in MLS will be one of the league’s youngest squads in just a few short years.
Hinchey and the Rapids are placing extra emphasis on developing young players to build “competition and consistency” and a long-term perennial contender at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park.
“This is a group that is working hard to go and value the college/MLS Draft, and that was one of the criteria for the coaching search [last year],” Hinchey told MLSsoccer.com on Wednesday. “We need someone that values the MLS college draft system because that’s an important part of our acquisition strategy.”
Hinchey feels that drafting and developing young players was neglected in previous years. Of the Rapids’ past 13 draft picks dating back to 2009, only three are still on the roster today: midfielder Tony Cascio (2012), forward Andre Akpan (2010) and goalkeeper Steward Ceus (2009).
Colorado selected Cascio 14th overall out of the University of Connecticut with their only pick in 2012. The 22-year-old went on to appear in 29 of 34 regular season matches in his rookie year, tallying three goals and adding three assist. His 1692 minutes were 733 more than the combined minutes of the 16 draft picks that made the team in 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011 during their first year. The minutes were also the most by a Rapids rookie since Nat Borchers in 2003.
With three projected picks in the top 30 of January’s SuperDraft, the team sent every member of their coaching and scouting staff to a different college championship earlier this month, and the Rapids have also begun fostering relationships in England and will send four of their younger players (Akpan, Cascio, Chris Klute and Martín Rivero) to Derby County of the English championship in December.
“If we can grow and have better younger players, we have two things: We’re growing players to get better experience to be there if our first team players or our starters can’t be available,” Hinchey said. “Second, we could be growing assets, so we can acquire young, talented players from not just Homegrown, but wherever we need to get them, whether it be through the draft system.
“And this year we want to take care of that,” he added. “Our cupboard’s been bare the last couple years because we moved all those draft picks for a win-now mentality.”
The team had considerable progress on the youth and development front in 2012, including the MLS debuts for their first two Homegrown players: defender/midfielder Davy Armstrong and midfielder Shane O’Neill. The Rapids also produced three US U-20 players in 2012, and the team hopes more are on the way, not just to provide a young backbone for the team, but to create competition at every position as soon as possible.
“We want 18 on the bench every time that are pissed that they’re not in that [starting position],” Hinchey said. “Then we want that next group, which is the reserve team, and the academy, we want that whole line.”
Chris Bianchi covers the Colorado Rapids for MLSsoccer.com.