Fleming on 'No more Mr. Nice Guy'

If they were league games, the Colorado Rapids would lie on two points from three matches, having scored three goals but conceded five.

But this is preseason, and the team is building, learning and growing. Indeed, it is growing in knowledge, understanding and personnel.

Nine new players have joined the Rapids since the end of last season, and that in itself can take a wee while to work up a head of steam and travel at full tilt.

Already, though, fans will have witnessed enough from the three displays thus far to be heartened, with the 2015 campaign less than two weeks away.

Is this a side capable of lifting trophies this year? Who knows. One thing's for sure, this will be a much tougher team to break down in 2015, having toughened up the brittle spine which looked so fragile last season once the likes of Shane O'Neill, Drew Moor and then Jared Watts sustained injuries, and with the classy midfielder Jose Mari playing just 20 of the 34 games. Vicente Sanchez (17 appearances) was also limited in his game time.

As Drew Moor regularly tells me, the age of the more youthful players should no longer be something we make a song and dance about, as all are proven at this level and experienced enough for us to label them as simply 'good players', as opposed to 'good, young players'.

So, the Rapids already had good players. In adding Sam Cronin, Bobby Burling, Marcelo Sarvas, Michael Harrington and Zac MacMath, the team has acquired experienced players. And within that group, they have also brought in - shall we say - a competitive streak that the team may have lacked in recent times.

Off the field, you couldn't meet nicer guys than the Rapids players. In the past, they'd also been accused of being nice guys on the field as well. I think it's fair to say, that won't be the case this year. And that's not to suggest the team will be ill-disciplined, but they won't be pussycats either.

Caleb Calvert has all the tools to become a very good striker. He's yet to make his MLS debut, having spent time at Chivas USA, but this teenager is eager to learn and improve ... and he will.

Of the other new arrivals, Axel Sjoberg has settled in nicely. The six foot seven inch Swede emerged from the SuperDraft, and has not looked out of place in games pitting him against the likes of Dom Dwyer, Charlie Davies and Juan Agudelo.

Two Argentines have been added to the roster since the turn of the year, and what great signings they appear to be. Lucas Pittinari could run all day. Not only does he have a great engine, but he has superb vision as well as the ability to stop opposition forays in their tracks.

And last, but by no means least, there is 21-year-old young DP, Juan Ramirez. He is the most recent addition, having officially signed on February 20. From what we've seen in the short amount of time, this is a player who will give opposing defenders nightmares. He's slight, slippery and skillful, and able to operate on either flank.

Nine new signings, in a side that has played just three preseason games against MLS opposition (they also played UNLV in a warm-up to their warm-ups). Most of preseason for 2015 is now behind us. Two games remain, against FC Tucson and an as yet unknown opponent, before the serious stuff starts on March 7, away at Philadelphia Union (kickoff 2 p.m MT, Altitude).

A recent report suggested that the Rapids were rank outsiders for MLS Cup, at 50-1. In other words, there are those who feel this side will be the whipping boys. Some would say that's fair considering the woeful end to 2014, but that's lazily looking at past failings rather than the present position.

MLS is full of sides that have endured shocking seasons, only to tinker, rebuild and emerge stronger. This is undoubtedly a stronger Rapids side. Only time will tell whether it has the ability to match what D.C. United managed in 2013 or New England achieved in 2014, but rather than throw a temper tantrum and leap on soccer forums to put people in the picture, just sit back and smile quietly to yourself. We don't want to spoil the element of surprise.


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