Throughout preseason, we'll be breaking down the 2020 roster position by position. In this installment, we're previewing the defense.
In 2020, the Rapids are set to begin the season with one of the youngest defensive groups in MLS. The average age of the players who make up the group: 24.4 years. With that youth comes athleticism and potential that are hard to match across the league.
"The defending group is really making strides forward (this preseason)," head coach Robin Fraser said. "Everyday is an opportunity to learn, and we came out of our last game with really specific thoughts in terms of the things the defenders need to do, not just for themselves, but things that need to be communicated throughout the team."
Let's take a look at each of the key players across the backline.
Lalas Abubakar was a key offseason priority for the front office, and the Rapids took care of business. Abubakar joined the Rapids in an official capacity this offseason via a trade with Columbus Crew SC, after spending most of the 2019 season on loan with the Rapids. The 25-year-old started in 22 matches for the Rapids and played a key role in the team's strong defensive form during the second half of the season. Before the athletic central defender arrived in Colorado last season, the Rapids conceded an average of 2.7 goals per game, and, with Abubakar, the Rapids conceded only 1.5 goals per game. The Ghanian quickly became a fan favorite in Colorado during the 2019 season, and fans should expect to see a lot of the center back and his trademark hair locking down the opposition in 2020.
"Lalas is a solid player," Fraser commented. "He is a very good defender. He is a very committed defender, and you see him taking care of his individual battles as he always does, but I see the growth in starting to see him communicate what he needs to see in front of him. I also see growth in terms of his decision making. He’s had a good preseason so far."
A new and exciting addition to the group of central defenders is Auston Trusty who was acquired via a trade with the Philadelphia Union in November. At only 21 years of age, Trusty is a proven commodity in MLS, having started 56 matches over two seasons with the Union. Trusty adds another elite level athlete to the backline as he continues to develop under Fraser, a central defender in his playing days.
"Auston is a strong, physical, athletic player. He is a type of player that will do very well in his individual battles, and he has a decent passing range. With Auston, I think you’ll see youth, athleticism, size and strength," Fraser said.
A familiar face for Rapids fans returned this offseason in the form of veteran Drew Moor. The veteran signed a one-year deal to rejoin the Rapids after spending the past four seasons with Toronto FC. He previously played 181 games in Colorado over six seasons, including a 2015 campaign that earned him a MLS All-Star appearance. The 36-year-old center back brings leadership, knowledge of the league and winning experience to the young group.
"Drew is a very good organizer. He has a great eye for the game, and the way he delivers messages throughout the team is really good. He is an authoritative defender and really helps the team with shape and communicating what’s in front of him," Fraser said.
One central defender that Rapids fans are eager to see back in action is Kortne Ford. The 24-year-old Homegrown is entering his fourth season with the club after missing all of 2019 due to a season-ending knee injury. Ford will hope to regain the form that saw him feature in 33 MLS matches during his first two seasons as a pro.
Danny Wilson enters his third full season with the Rapids after appearing in 20 games for the club in 2019. He adds experience and brings a sense of calm to the field whether featuring in central defense or defensive midfield.
An athletic central defender, Abdul Rwatubyaye will look to make his Rapids debut this season and adds depth to the roster. Rwatubyaye was acquired via trade in May of 2019 and spent time on loan with Colorado Springs for the remainder of the season. The 23-year-old appeared in 21 matches for Switchbacks FC.
LEFT FULL BACK
A very important piece to young core is Sam Vines. Vines, a Colorado native, had a breakout season for the Rapids in 2019, featuring in 26 games including an eye-opening performance against LAFC and eventual MLS MVP, Carlos Vela. The 20-year-old Homegrown enters the 2020 season fresh off being named to the MLS 22 Under 22 list in December, and, more recently, Vines earned his first cap in a starting role for the USMNT on February 1 against Costa Rica.
"Sam Vines has a lot of physical attributes that have gotten noticed for recently," Fraser commented. "I think to continue his growth it will be about not only his individual defending, but his team defending within the group, and the information that he gives to the wingers ahead of him."
Deklan Wynne is a versatile defender who is most at home on the left side of the back four. Wynne played in 11 matches for the Rapids during his second season with the club but missed majority of 2019 due to a foot injury. Fully healthy in preseason, the 24-year-old enters the 2020 campaign looking to push for time at his preferred position.
RIGHT FULL BACK
Another key figure for the defense is Keegan Rosenberry. Amazingly, Rosenberry was one of three MLS players to play every minute in 2019, and the 26-year-old is entering his second season with the club and his fifth in MLS. Rosenberry's durability was key to the consistency along the backline in 2019, but it was his athleticism that allowed him to get forward in the attack to cause problems for opposing teams. Rosenberry led all of MLS in interceptions during 2019 by a wide margin; a stat that highlights his ability to read the game and snuff out attacks when called upon. He will be counted on as a veteran voice in the group heading into the 2020 season.
The youngest member of the Rapids roster is Sebastian Anderson, who signed a Homegrown contract last April. The 17-year-old right back became the youngest player in club history to score a goal in July. He also spent part of his offseason with the US U-17s at the World Cup in Brazil. In total, Anderson made six appearances for the Rapids during his rookie season, and he will look to continue his growth at the right back position in the upcoming season.
2020 DRAFT PRODUCTS
Two players who have yet to sign official contracts with the team are 2020 MLS SuperDraft picks Jeremy Kelly and Robin Afamefuna. Kelly, a right back from the University of North Carolina, and Afamefuna, a left back from the University of Virginia, have acclimated well to the pace of play and overall system. Each will hope they've done enough to secure a spot on the roster heading into the season.
“Both (Kelly and Afamefuna) have done well so far,” Fraser said. “They’ve both been asked to do things that probably aren’t so comfortable or familiar to them, and they’ve both adapted really well. Both players are pretty astute learners, and they’ve picked things up pretty quickly and haven’t missed a beat.”