With the options deadline passing, we now have a really good idea of what the Colorado Rapids front office thinks about where the roster is right now.
Here's a look at the depth chart right now. I picked a 4-4-1-1 not because I know what Robin Fraser wants, but because it's basically the way the players are best aligned right now.
GOALKEEPERS (1): Clint Irwin
DEFENDERS (10): Lalas Abubakar, Sebastian Anderson, Kortne Ford, Abdul Rwatubyaye, Keegan Rosenberry, Auston Trusty, Axel Sjöberg, Sam Vines, Danny Wilson, Deklan Wynne
MIDFIELDERS (3): Kellyn Acosta, Cole Bassett, Jack Price
FORWARDS (7): Matt Hundley, Kei Kamara, Jonathan Lewis, Niki Jackson, Sam Nicholson, Diego Rubio, Andre Shinyashiki
Areas of Depth: Fullback, Center Back
Simply put, the Rapids are pretty much all done with the entire 2020 backline. With the permanent addition of Lalas Abubakar and the recent addition of Auston Trusty to go with Keegan Rosenberry and Sam Vines, this team is totally ready to start the season right now with their back four. And if you look around at their Western Conference opponent like the LA Galaxy, Real Salt Lake, Vancouver Whitecaps, and Seattle Sounders, you see that in comparison, the Rapids have a complete defense. The Sounders, for instance, have three fullbacks and an empty sack of dirty socks ready to play.
That doesn't mean the team is done making moves back there. I think cutting bait with Axel Sjöberg - releasing him from his contract and letting him go on a free to Scandinavia or loaning him the USL, would both be good moves in order to open up a spot. The team could use one more defender to get 500-1000 minutes; ideally perhaps a veteran who can mentor younger players, as Vines, Trusty, and Abubakar are all really, really young. Bringing back Eric Miller or Drew Moor would potentially make sense.
But long story short, really, this team is done on the backline. Which is pretty, pretty, pretty great.
Areas of Need: Central Midfield, Wide Midfield, Striker, Backup Goalkeeper
With Lewis and Nicholson on the wings, the Rapids have two young, fast, talented, and improving assets that are Starting XI caliber. With Jack Price, they've got a guy that can serve in a ball. Clint Irwin can and would step in as the #1 goalkeeper and could do the job well enough to see this team make the playoffs - according to the one GK stat I trust somewhat, Expected Goals Allowed, Irwin would have been the 8th-best starting keeper in MLS if you extrapolated his numbers out over a full season.
But oy, bubbeleh, we've got to talk about the central midfield.
Kellyn Acosta was mostly bad in 2019. He rediscovered some purpose when Conor Casey shifted him deeper as a pure number six, and was an adequate defensive midfielder. But honestly, 2 goals, 2 assists, and 0.6 Key Passes per game is not good enough from a guy you dropped serious coin on. It's been a minute since Acosta was 'an exciting up and coming USMNT mid'. In seven years in MLS, he has a grand total of 13 goals and 17 assists in 12,000 minutes of play. Miguel Almiron produced 12 goals, 14 assists in just 2,700 minutes in 2018.
In short, I have little faith that Acosta is going to be the guy for you in 2020. Could he be converted to a defensive midfielder in a 4-2-3-1 to sit next to Jack Price and murder dudes? Sure. Can he ever be the starting #8 or the #10? No.
To add to that, Cole Bassett probably isn't ready to step in and be the guy at that spot either. Bassett is a wonderful soccer player, but he isn't crunching enough to be a d-mid, fast enough to play on the wing, or clairvoyant to be a true number 10 (yet). He might eventually grow to become an excellent box-to-box mid, but he can't play every day for an MLS team at that spot and get them into the playoffs as of 2020.
That means the team needs to go get at least two central midfielders - either two box-to-box guys for a 4-4-2 style lineup, with Jack Price coming off the bench, or perhaps a 4-3-3 where Pricey sits behind the two mids. Or maybe you get that magical creative attacking midfielder that fans have been craving for-ehhh-ever. We thought it would be Gabriel Torres in 2015 (it wasn't.) Then we hoped it was Marco Pappa in 2016 (nope!) There was some hope that Stefan Aigner would slide inside to do that job in 2017 (hahahahahahhaha!) And in 2018 and 2019, the team basically said 'yeah, we don't have that guy and we can't afford him; so let's start the offense either from the wings or on the counter.' Which is just one of several reasons why the team didn't make the playoffs.
The team knows they need this guy, and according to Rapids GM Padraig Smith, they've gone looking for him in Argentina - a good place for creative midfielders .
Let's just hope they come home with a gem instead of Juan Ramirez this time.
The Rapids also need some help at wide midfield for 2020. Going to wingbacks and a 5-3-2 in 2018 also mean a roster purge of wide attackers that couldn't defend, a purge that the team is slowly rebuilding from. But if the team goes 4-4-2, 4-3-3, or 4-2-3-1 in 2020, they'll need a few more guys on the wings to fill out the roster. A fast, cheap attacker can be had out of Central America or the NCAAs, or if your scouts like, some exotic foreign league that requires nine plane changes to get to. You could also try and take on a reclamation project from MLS, like Kekuta Manneh, who was so exciting two years ago and yet now nobody remembers his name.
I also think the Rapids need to get a striker.
Yeah, you heard me.
Shinyashiki is probably ready to be the starting striker in 2020 for the Colorado Rapids, with Kei Kamara coming off the bench in the 70th minute, Alan Gordon-style. Sure, Kei had 14 goals in 2019. He's also 35 years old. To quote the eminently quotable Matt Doyle, Father time is undefeated. It would be a terrible idea to count on him for more than 2000 minutes in 2020, and better for the team if they let him be a super-sub in order that Shinya could get minutes.
That said, although a solid season from Shinyashiki or Rubio might get you into the playoffs, I don't think they would get you MLS Cup, and for a team with three open DP slots, the club ought to aspire to winning the whole damn thing, what with the pieces they have in place right now.
I doubt you need to hear this, because I feel like it's been said over and over again, by me and by smarter people than me, but Colorado needs to get a DP striker and a DP creative mid this offseason that are true game changers. Gashi was for a brief window that game changing DP before he really, really wasn't. (Note to future Rapids players, do not spend the offseason on ATVs in Morocco and yachts in Dubai. Have fun, don't instragram it, and bring a personal trainer with you.) Gaby Torres wasn't a game changing DP. Kevin Doyle was a nice little player, but he wasn't a game changing DP. Tim Howard - just stop.
Will this team make those big moves? Sigh. I started covering this team in 2013, and I think we all thought each season that the club would either finally open the purse strings, or that they had found a value buy that could possibly maybe if you held him up just right in the light turn out to be 'the guy'. In addition to the names already mentioned, Luis Solignac and Nana Boateng and Jose Marí and Marcelo Sarvas and (ugggh) Yannick Boli were all supposed to be 'the key piece' for this team, and weren't.
Sometimes you have to pay more for the real team. But hopefully, finally, in 2020, it's time for the Rapids to get real and build not 'a team that might compete' in the off season, but instead build 'a winner' to get this frustrated fanbase some well-deserved hardware.