Before we continue from part 1, an important note. A source with knowledge of the Rapids reached out to inform me of the degree to which Padraig Smith made decisions of player acquisition. Essentially, he shared that Padraig was part of decision-making process in 2015 and 2016, but all of those decisions were ultimately made by former GM Paul Bravo. The first time Padraig was the man-in-charge was for the transfer of Jermaine Jones to the LA Galaxy, in January of 2017. That coincides with Bravo’s departure from the Rapids that same month, but precedes Smith’s appointment as Interim General Manager by six months.
Which is kinda perfect, because that’s where I left off with part one.
That all said, Padraig was there for all of the signings from part 1 - he just wasn’t the deciding voice. Part 2, then, is the first half of the ‘these are Padraig signings’ segment in this three-part series.
I also went to Rapids training today and have some notes to report. You can find those pearls if you skip down to the bottom, kids. Otherwise, let’s dig in to some roster construction.
Winter Signings/Trades 2017
Mike da Fonte
Draft: Sam Hamilton* (Signed, 4 games, 124 min to date), Liam Callahan* (Waived), Jaime Siaj (Loaned to Charlotte, later waived), Peguy Ngatcha (Waived)
[* The 15th overall pick in the draft was received from LA Galaxy in exchange for Jermaine Jones, and was used to select Sam Hamilton. The 24th overall pick in the draft was received from Atlanta in exchange for an International spot that is in use for 2017 and 2018. It was used to select Liam Callahan.]
Kortne Ford is a homegrown signing, and due to MLS’ salary and roster construction rules, any homegrown that can contribute at all to the senior team is a great (and cheap) addition. Ford has been a promising centerback since day one with this team. This one was a pretty smart move and very low risk. And it has worked out quite well. Ford’s ceiling is super high, and the fact that he’s already emerged as a legitimate everyday starter makes this a successful move. No doubt credit should truly go here to Brian Crookham, Chris Martinez, Marcelo Balboa, and the entire academy coaching staff, not to mention Jamie Franks at the University of Denver for helping Kort get to this level of ability. But credit too to Padraig for bringing him on.
Ricardo Perez is another homegrown, and he emerges as fascinating player. He’s a very technical player who plays the most difficult position on the field - central attacking midfielder. That’s also a position the Rapids sorely need. However, in his two years with the club, Riki hasn’t made much impact. In 2017 he was out on loan to the USL’s Colorado Switchbacks, where he logged 6 starts, 485 minutes, 1 goal, 0 assists, and 10 key passes. This year he’s been with the Charlotte Independence, where he’s played 10 games but earned just 1 start and 117 minutes. He was a solid homegrown but while playing in the NCAA with Creighton, he didn’t emerge as a top level talent, and had he not been signed as an HGP, it is unlikely he’d have been picked in the MLS SuperDraft. It looks unlikely he’ll end up a first-team contributor. But the club gave him a shot, and I think that’s generally a smart move when it comes to homegrowns.
Alan Gordon just does one thing: he comes in after the 70th minute and bangs in headed goals. He’s still doing it for Chicago this year. He may still be doing it in 10 more years. Who knows. In 2017, he played in 26 matches for the Rapids, starting 6. He scored 3 goals, all game winners, all after the 80th minute, making him worth 6 points for a team that only accrued 33 points all year. Add to that his 4 assists and his bargain-basement price of $180,000, and Alan Gordon is a smash success. The only place to criticize is in the decision not to resign him. We could speculate that it would have cost more to re-sign him, but ultimately, Chicago now has him and is paying $150,000, and his production to date in 2018 is 4 goals through 18 games.
Grade: A for signing him, but a D for not re-signing, if that makes sense.
Bismark-Adjei ‘Nana’ Boateng looks and feels just like Yaya Toure - a big, fast midfielder that has the tools to be a defensive mid, an attacker, or a true old-school box-to-box mid. From 2013 to 2016, he played in 92 matches for Stromgodset and recorded 18 goals, and when the Rapids signed him, he was still just 22 years old. He looked promising. Then he broke his back, and his return to the team later that season was understandably unfruitful. In 2018, he was looking un-productive in the midfield, and so gaffer Anthony Hudson swung him out to right wing back for a few games, where he really looked confused, and now he’s lost his starting role. Over his 19 games for Colorado, he has 0 goals, and 1 assist - but that assist is truly spectacular.
He has flashes of brilliance; slick backheels, Cruyff-turns with 40 yard bursts, massive runs, and glorious emergency tackles. He also regularly makes terrible decisions or delivers really poor passes into bad spots. He was signed, according to Norwegian sources, to a four-year deal that runs through 2020, and is on a TAM contract valued at $360,000. That’s a lot for a guy that hasn’t consistently held a starting spot. To be felicitous, he’s still young, and could still step in and prove himself to have been a good choice. But right now, he’s not looking like a good use of TAM dollars. If you want more thoughts on Nana, click here.
Oh my God here we go. It’s time for me to talk about the biggest decision to date in the Padraig Smith era: the trade of Sam Cronin and Marc Burch to Minnesota in exchange for Mohammed Saeid and Joshua Gatt plus salary relief that gave the Rapids some roster flexibility going forward. This decision blew up the foundations of the 2016 Rapids as they moved into 2017 and ultimately doomed the team to ignominious irrelevance. One cannot evaluate Saeid or Gatt purely as an acquisition without looking at what the team gave up for them, and in this case, it was the most consistent left back the team has had for half a decade and the best defensive midfielder in MLS in 2016 - that’s according to me, who is clearly biased, and Matt Doyle, who is not. That aforementioned roster flexibility the Rapids got was spent, apparently, on Stefan Aigner, which we’ll get to soon.
Mo was a lovely little player. He had quite a motor and he could play in a clever pass. His possession dribbling was always effective, and he was great at controlling the tempo of the game. He lead the team in 2017 with Key Passes at 1.5 per game, and had one of the highest passing percentages on the team of 82.3%. But his strikers weren’t great at finishing for him, and he himself wasn’t a devastating goal scorer or a dribbling threat. So ultimately, in comparison to what the team lost in order to get him, the deal for Mo wasn’t a good one.
In addition to Saeid, the Rapids got Joshua Gatt, a blisteringly fast winger who hadn’t panned out due to ACL trouble. His knees were in fine health in Colorado, as was his speed. It’s just that… that’s about it for Josh. At full pace, his passing was not good, when he chose to pass it. Usually, he elected to shoot, and he wasn’t a killer goal scorer either. He ended the season with 2 goals, 2 assists in 1067 minutes with 17 shots. Expected goals only pinned him at 1.52 xG, meaning his shooting really wasn’t terrible, but he also didn’t ultimately become a game-changing, must-start player. Which, when you are traded for a starting left back, and the loss of that left back opens a gaping hole in the team that takes a year to get filled, is a problem, at least from the GM’s perspective.
It’s important to add a coda to the Burch/Cronin for Gatt/Saeid deal of what happened afterwards. Burch has played 1455 minutes for Minnesota in 2017 and 2018, missing some time due to injury. Cronin played 1551 minutes, all in 2017. Both helped steady a TERRIBLE Minnesota defence. They conceded 18 goals in 4 games before the trade (!) against 52 goals in the 30 games after the trade. That’s a decline from 4.5 GAA without Cronin and Burch to 1.73 GAA with Cronin and Burch. At least for 2017 this trade was great for MNUFC, not-so-great for Colorado. Burch is now in 2018 a bench piece, and Cronin is out for the season with a neck-injury. Saeid went to Denmark to play for Lyngby, but hardly played all year after encountering problems with the coach.** Gatt signed just today for SCR Altach in the Austrian Bundesliga. So one year on from the big trade, neither the Colorado Rapids nor Minnesota United had any of the four players left on the field to show for their efforts. That’s sports.
Mike da Fonte came out of USL and was a cheap signing that looked like a legitimate option at left back. He was terrible. His games ranged from ‘below average, but no catastrophic errors to lose us a game’ to ‘made multiple catastrophic errors that cost the team the game.’ He was loaned to Phoenix FC for this year.
Stefan Aigner was the big player that Padraig Smith brought in to be a game changing attacker. He needed
to clear out room under the salary cap to get him by pulling off the Cronin/Burch trade to Minnesota, while MNUFC ate some of the salary for Gatt and Saeid. The 2017 year was supposed to be his time to settle in before really becoming an integral part of the team in 2018. You pretty much know the rest . He got into a training ground spat with new head coach Anthony Hudson. He was supposedly on a 'special fitness plan' to get back into the starting team. He never did. He only played 11 minutes for the whole of 2018. He was terminated and went back to Germany, where he is now playing with a 3.Bundesliga team, KFC Unterhaching. We got all that that for $800,000 in TAM.
A lot of fans assume this story is all about Anthony Hudson being an intransigent ogre. It’s possible. However, both Tim Howard and Tommy Smith expressed in interviews that the problem was Aigner being unwilling to adapt. In an interview, Howard said this:
“Ultimately, when you’re trying to build a culture around a club, you want people who want to be here. You want people who are pushing in the same direction as the rest of the team. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case.”
Nonetheless, the buck stops somewhere and thus most of this is on Padraig. I dunno that a 30-year-old winger ever made sense. The move then becomes more nonsensical when the Rapids switched to a 5-3-2, a formation requiring athleticism and strong defending from your wing players, two things Aigner did not have. The entire Aigner experience, from beginning to end - a beginning of needing to move current players in order to get the space to sign him and an end of him sulking off dyspeptically to his home country with all of the team’s money - cannot be seen as anything other than an unmitigated, unprecedented disaster. The only possible saving grace is that he was not a Designated Player, and thus will never appear on one of these lists.
Grade: F, although if there were worse grades, this deal would earn one of those.
Dillon Powers was flipped to Colorado for Luis Gil and $100,000 in TAM. Powers wasn’t playing much and needed a fresh start in a new place. Gil basically had the same story. Powers is still with Orlando and in two seasons with that struggling club he’s played in 8 matches without having much impact. The same can be said for Luis Gil, who got into 4 matches for Colorado in 2017 and was waived at season’s end. There’s not much in this move, other than giving Dillon Powers a chance to move on for the unlikely prospect of getting a player that might be helpful to the Rapids. Gil wasn’t helpful, but this wasn’t a bad idea. And the money was nice.
Giles Barnes was added to the Rapids in something of a shock move: what does a bottom-of-the-table team with little prospect of making the playoffs need with a veteran striker? Barnes is the kind of addition that makes sense for a team in the playoff hunt, in need of an 80th minute goal scorer; or perhaps a club just starting their season, but it didn't make sense to me for the Rapids.
But after talking to him at training on Tuesday, I maybe understand the move a little more. I asked Barnes about his time in with Club León in Mexico, where he played in only 3 cup matches and had zero regular season Clausura games. He said this:
“My experience (in Liga MX) wasn’t the best. But it’s a learning process. You go down there and things don’t go right, you pick up a little knock, or you’re not in the team, you find out a lot about yourself as an individual and how to overcome those things. You work hard for whatever is to come next. I always had it in my head ‘If it doesn’t work out here, I’m going to be as fit and ready when I go somewhere and step on the pitch and do what I do best.'”
My sense is that Barnes has a chip on his shoulder. He wants to prove to the world that he can still be a difference-making scorer at a top-level club. His short run-out in his first game put that on display: in the first half, Barnes had a 70 yard burst up the gut to nearly strike for a goal, and had a few nifty dribbles including a top-of-the-box roulette. He's an exciting spark, and he brings some flair, and he has the right attitude coming in. The Rapids might only be a shop window for Barnes’ talents, but he’s got a fire, and if it helps give the club a few goals before he maybe moves on at season's end, then it’ll probably be worth whatever they’re paying him. And hey, it'll make our games a little more exciting, too, so why the hell not...
A few other notes from the training ground today. Several players worked out to the side instead of taking part in the full workout, although I did not have the opportunity to get any specific updates. Shkëlzen Gashi, Giles Barnes, and Jack Price were all working out on the side but not involved in full team training…
Dominique Badji was not seen at practice at all...
The Rapids did have Niki Jackson, who has spent some time on loan in Colorado Springs, participating fully in training…
The Rapids senior team practiced together with the U23 team. The USL PDL side will be headed to Southern California this Friday for the Western Conference Finals, where they will play Calgary Foothills FC. They earned the trip by winning the Mountain Conference Championship on the back of a strong 8-2-4 season…
In the practice, the Rapids had Johan Blomberg at right back once again along with the back three of Tommy Smith, Axel Sjoberg, and Kortne Ford. Edgar Castillo was at left wing back , and Danny Wilson was in the central midfield again...
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** Google’s translation of the headline of this article is pretty amazing: ‘Saeid agent about Lyngby coach: I never heard so much shit.’