2012 in Review: Colorado Rapids

Over the next three weeks, MLSsoccer.com will take a look back at the 2012 season that was for all 19 clubs in Major League Soccer, starting with Toronto FC and ending with the Supporters' Shield-winning San Jose Earthquakes. You can find the schedule and comprehensive reviews for each team here.

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

2012 Colorado Rapids statistics

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

It was a season of transition at best, struggle at worst for Colorado in 2012, as the club missed the postseason for the first time since 2009. Under the passionate guidance of first-year head coach Oscar Pareja, the Rapids encountered plenty of learning curves trying to absorb Pareja’s attack-minded, possession-based style of soccer.

But Colorado were also hurt by the loss of captain and veteran midfield ace Pablo Mastroeni, who went down with concussion symptoms in March and didn’t return for the rest of the season. Injured strikers Conor Casey and Omar Cummings failed to find their 2010 form, and Casey has already departed by mutual consent. Injuries and a lack of cover to account for their absences, along with a shaky backline, contributed to a season-defining 0-6-0 July and a 2-11-1 midseason slump.

But there were positives to take away from 2012, as well. New midfielder Martín Rivero demonstrated a swagger from day one, impressing the Rapids with his technical ability, endurance and maturity. Goalkeeper Matt Pickens was a force between the posts once again, and Hendry Thomas’ August acquisition helped Colorado record a 3-2-2 record in their final seven games.

Pareja admitted in November that his expectations were too high heading into 2012 – he was hired in January and tried to install his new system in just two months.

Now, the Rapids are focusing on finding the proper players to fit Pareja’s 4-3-3, and also helping stock the coffers with youthful competition at every position as they eye not only a 2013 return to the postseason, but the begin the process of building a young team that can compete on an annual basis.

Best Moment of the Year

It had been three long years since the Rapids defeated their archrivals, Real Salt Lake. It had also been seven matches since the Rapids had even claimed a point in MLS regular-season play after a point-less July.

But on August 4, the Rapids killed two birds with one Joseph Nane first-half goal, holding on for a 1-0 win over their Rocky Mountain rivals. The victory – which was far more convincing than the final score showed – snapped a six-game MLS losing streak and an eight-game losing streak to RSL.

Worst Moment of the Year

On June 16, the Rapids dominated the first half of their road tilt at BC Place against the Whitecaps. Then, early in the second half, ‘Caps striker Darren Mattocks received his second yellow card. The Rapids were up a man and appeared to have, at the very least, a point locked up while they launched an all-out assault on the Vancouver goal in search of three points.

But in the 80th minute, Sébastien Le Toux’s goal against the run of play crushed the Rapids’ hearts and gave the Whitecaps an all-important three points. Perhaps it wasn’t a coincidence that Colorado lost seven of their next eight games following this kick-in-the-gut defeat.

Best Goal

Down 2-0 against the visiting Galaxy on April 21, Omar Cummings decided to take matters into his own hands in order to slice his team’s deficit in half.

A bouncing ball in the midfield landed at the feet of the speedy Jamaican and he sprinted up the field, holding off a Galaxy defender during a mazy 30-yard run, before firing an unstoppable blast into the top corner past an outstretched Josh Saunders.

The Rapids went on to lose that game, 2-1, but Cummings’ blast provided the home fans with a thrill they likely won’t soon forget.

Best Save

In a 0-0 game late in the first half in Portland on August 31, Pickens had already made a couple of big saves to keep the game scoreless, but nothing could match what he did in the 44th minute. A Timbers cross into the box found Franck Songo’o on the volley, but the Cameroonian’s strike was deflected by Rapids defender Drew Moor and away from the leaping Pickens. Moving in the opposite direction, Pickens quickly adjusted and stuck out his legs to make a crucial stop for Colorado.

Team MVP

Nearly everyone in the Colorado organization will tell you that Pickens is the most unappreciated goalkeeper in MLS. He repeatedly kept the Rapids in games they often had no business being in, and nearly single-handedly earned them points on multiple occasions. The 30-year-old, who was rewarded with a contract extension midseason, finished in the top five in MLS in total saves and also emerged as a key veteran voice in Mastroeni’s absence.

Best Newcomer

Rivero came with the quiet swagger you don’t typically see from 22-year-olds playing in a new league. But the diminutive Argentine midfielder, who was acquired from Rosario Central in February, made his impact felt immediately in his first MLS season. He played and started in 30 games for Pareja in 2012, recording two goals and a team-high eight assists while establishing himself as the heart of the Rapids’ midfield. Colorado have made retaining Rivero a top priority as the team looks to build around its midfield moving forward.

Offseason Needs

1. Shore up the backline: The Rapids quietly allowed 50 goals in 2012, fifth-most in MLS. But even more concerning than the goals allowed were the ways they allowed them: through set-piece failures and repeated lapses in concentration. Starting center backs Marvell Wynne and Drew Moor, by their own admission, had subpar seasons and both committed costly errors in 2012.

The team has already taken its first steps to addressing its faulty backline by disposing of defenders Luis Zapata, Tyrone Marshall and Scott Palguta. Left back Anthony Wallace, who missed 2012 with a torn ACL, is expected to be the team’s new left back. The club is also expected to find young depth along their back four, potentially through next month’s SuperDraft, where the Rapids hold three picks in the first two rounds.

2. Find a striker: With Casey gone and Cummings battling injuries the past few seasons, firepower is badly needed in Commerce City. One of the bigger underlying reasons behind the Rapids’ 2012 woes was an inability to extend leads, and missed chances were often behind it. Even with an auspicious rookie season from Tony Cascio (right) and super-sub Kamani Hill’s solid first year as well, the team has said it’s chasing a young, attacking Designated Player to help fill the void up top.

3. Bring back Rivero and Thomas: Rapids technical director Paul Bravo called retaining the core of his midfield his top offseason priority. With Jeff Larentowicz and Brian Mullan recently re-signed to multi-year contract extensions, the midfield is the team’s strength, and Rivero and Thomas are at the heart of it. Rivero, as discussed, provided the No. 10 the team had been seeking, and Thomas’ addition from EPL side Wigan was instrumental in helping the Rapids to an improved 3-2-2 finish. Both players are widely expected to return in 2013, and Pareja is expected to build his team around them.

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