In past years when the transfer window opens up, I have spent oodles of time and energy researching team needs and possible players the team might get. In the past three years, I have suggested, in six different articlesyou can click,* 58 possible players the Rapids go out and get. Twice, I was right: the Rapids did sign Ricardo Perez to the senior team in 2017, and they did damn those torpedoes and go get Jermaine Jones. Which might have been my proudest moment as a soccer writer.
Speculating on the transfer window this year is a totally lost cause. I just have no idea what the front office wants to do right now, or what positions they want to go get, or whether this window is seen as irrelevant to the project of building a 2019 contender or whether the road to the MLS Cup in 2019 starts now.
Yesterday’s transfer rumors only confirm my desire to not play crystal ball with the Rapids roster. Sam Stejkal revealed that Joe Mason is returning to newly promoted EPL side Wolverhampton and the Rapids have expressed interest in signing former Club Leon, Orlando City and Houston Dynamo striker Giles Barnes. Mason returning makes sense: I speculate that Wolves asked Colorado if they wanted to buy the on-loan striker, Colorado said no, and Wolves knew that he was not going to make the roster for the now-top-flight-club. I assume he will be sold on soon. Barnes, on the other hand, is a head scratcher. He’s older and hasn’t scored many goals since 2016. I’d rather let Niki Jackson get a chance.
What I mean by all of this is that I have no idea what’s going on in the head of Padraig Smith. So rather than look forward at possibilities, I’m going to look back and grade everything Padraig has done since he came to the Rapids.
Padraig Smith joined the Rapids in November of 2014 as an assistant GM, and became General Manager on July 25, 2017. We’ll take a look at every player Padraig set eyes on beginning in July of 2015, because I’m going to assume he had no hand in decisions in that first transfer window, when he was still trying to figure out how to work the copier. It’s a long list, so make yourself that Long Island iced tea and settle in.
Summer Signings 2015
Sean St Ledger
At the 2015 summer transfer window, the Rapids were sitting on 24 points with a chance at making the playoffs. But poor performances by a number of earlier signings (Lucas Pittinari, Marcelo Sarvas, Juan Ramirez and James Riley) proved the undoing of the team, and scoring was in short supply as the team had only 33 goals.
Sean St Ledger had been released by Orlando City for missing a team flight, and the rumor was that he and a teammate were out drinking. He played in 12 games for Colorado, totalling 1048 minutes, but the team went 4-9-1, and finished 10th in the Western Conference. Sledge hurt his hamstring, then his knee in preseason in 2016 and never played another minute of football again. But he came cheap at least? Grade: C-
Maynor Figueroa was also a stop-gap signing. He came in to play left back after Marc Burch went down with injury, played all 90 minutes in the team’s final 10 games, but ultimately was not re-signed. FC Dallas picked him up in 2016 and he helped them run to a cup-double: Supporters Shield and US Open Cup. In 2017 he was also with the club for their epic collapse. Figueroa was a good signing. The only perplexing thing was why he wasn’t retained. Grade: B+
Winter Signings 2016
Draft picks: Chris Froschauer (waived) Emmanuel Appiah (waived) Dennis Castillo (played 7 games in 2016 & 2017, option declined)
With 2015 ending poorly, Colorado went for a full offseason rebuild in 2016, ditching 14 players from the previous team, which is a lot. The players they brought in proved to be quite an upgrade, as the team finished second in the Western Conference and ran all the way to the MLS playoff semi-final. It must be remembered that Padraig was at the table for those moves.
Micheal Azira was a lightly used defensive midfielder that Seattle Sounders dug up in the USL after coming to the US from Uganda for college. Pablo Mastroeni installed him alongside Sam Cronin in midfield, and the buddy-cop tandem absolutely suffocated opposing attacks for the entire 2016 season. The Rapids lost zero games at home and conceded only 7 goals in Commerce City all year. When the Rapids dispatched Sam Cronin in mid 2017, Azira became less effective, defensively, and this year he’s mostly been reduced back to a relief role. His Achilles heel has always been passing: he’s not a bad passer, but he also doesn’t add much to the attack. To my mind, his defense more than compensates, but clearly Anthony Hudson disagrees. That said, he was a bargain buy (claimed in the Waiver draft), and he has always been productive.
Zac MacMath was the starting GK who only briefly started. Clearly he was brought in to start, but between Clint Irwin serving as starter in 2015 and (spoiler alert) Tim Howard coming in to start in mid 2016, he’s only had 31 starts in his four years in Commerce City, mostly in that post-Irwin pre-Timmy gap of early 2016, where Zac went 9-1-5 with 8 (!) clean sheets. I have it on good authority that he’s been shopped more than once, but in the end, nothing came of it. He’s a good goalkeeper, which makes him a tremendous backup, and he's not even that expensive at $170,000 for this year. Good move all around.
Oh, Marco Pappa. This seemed like a really good signing when it occurred in December of 2015. Fans were thrilled that the team would final have a proper attacking midfield playmaker. Then a month later he was involved in a bizarre domestic incident where his beauty pagent girlfriend stabbed him with a knife. It took him a while to get back to health, and then he only started 10 games, mostly as a wing playmaker instead of a number ten like fans had all hoped for (the Rapids used Dillon Powers, Kevin Doyle, and Jermaine Jones there instead, except I think one game). Pappa had 2 goals and 4 assists, but was really never essential to this team down the stretch. At season’s end he was waived and ended up back with his hometown club of Municipal in Guatemala. He was a useful cog, but I think everyone expected more.
Zac Pfeffer was acquired from Philadelphia along with GAM in exchange for the Rapids second overall pick in the 2016 SuperDraft, who Philly eventually used on Joshua Yaro, a left back who had a great rookie season but has been dogged by injury the past two years. Pfeffer played 546 minutes for Charlotte in 2016 with zero goals and zero assists, was waived, and went to graduate school afterwards. This was a pretty big whiff. But not an expensive one, I guess. Grade: D
Albanian international Shkelzen Gashi had a boatload of goals in the Swiss Axpo SuperLeague with a Champions League-caliber team, and was brought in at the still-in-his-prime age of 27. He was fantastic in 2016, especially in dead-ball situations, bagging 9 goals to lead the team as well as contributing 4 assists. His injury-plagued 2017 campaign was likely related to coming into the season unfit. In 2018 he came into the year fit, injuries and manager preference have limited his impact; with only 1 goal and 314 minutes so far in 2018. His three years of production have been underwhelming, especially considering his nearly $1.7 million a year DP contract. His contract also runs through 2019. There’s no nice way to say it: Gashi will need to dramatically impact this team over the next 18 months to be anything other than a disappointment, and the odds of that do not look good. To be fair, there was absolutely no reason to believe the Rapids fortunes with Gashi would turn out this way, especially after such a great 2016. To be honest, GMs aren’t judged on bad luck, they’re judged on results. And the results for Gashi just haven’t been there.
Mekeil Williams seemed like a really good idea. He was fast, he had Concacaf international experience with Trinidad and Tobago, he was capable of playing at right or left back, and he was a good offensive threat. He spent 2016 backing up Marc Burch, and when Burch was shipped off to Minnesota near the start of 2017, he inherited the left back job and looked ready to be the man. And then we learned that he wasn’t a great defender. Mmm, maybe I should say he was a bad defender. How bad? He lost his job in 2017 to Mike Da Fonte, who was also quite bad. Although this is anecdotal, because there were other changes on the back line in 2017. However, the Rapids conceded only 32 goals in 2016 with Marc Burch at left back. They conceded 51 goals in 2017 with a mix of Da Fonte and Williams. Mekeil is now in USL with Richmond. In hindsight, we can all agree that this was not a good signing.
Conor Doyle was acquired from DC United in exchange for the Rapids third round SuperDraft pick. DC flipped that pick to NYRB, who then flipped it to Orlando City. Orlando then used the pick on Danny Deakin, who didn’t make it to MLS and now plays for Detroit City FC. Doyle played 23 minutes for the Rapids with zero goals and only 1 shot, as he spent most of the season on loan in USL. He was waived at year’s end, and he’s now with NPSL’s Jacksonville Armada. He was essentially that free scratcher lottery ticket you get at the office Christmas party. Grade: No grade.
Jermaine Jones was maybe a little expensive and often hurt - he earned a $650,000 TAM-level salary while only playing in 9 regular season games and 3 playoff games - but he was electric on the field. Pablo Mastroeni put him as a wandering-destroyer-slash-attacking-midfielder, and it more-or-less worked. Jermaine scored 3 goals and had 2 assists in those 9 games. He caused havoc for opponents. When he bombed way out of position, Azira and Cronin were there to backstop him. Then the Rapids traded Jermaine to LA for a first round pick, which turned into Sam Hamilton. Jermaine’s sour relationship with the New England Revolution, his disciplinary record, and his injury history made this a risky move. It’s a bummer we didn’t get more matches out of him, but overall this one worked out OK. Grade: B+
Summer Signings 2016
The Tim Howard signing is so big, so complex, and so multifaceted, that I can’t truly do it justice in one little paragraph. Simply put, we all know this was as much a marketing move as it was a soccer move. And yet when you go out and make the biggest signing in your clubs history since Carlos Valderrama and Marcelo Balboa, the guy you get had better be good at football. Tim’s stature and fame brought people to Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. His heroics in the 2016 playoffs during a penalty shootout will forever live in the memory of Rapids fans. And his $2.6 million contract that runs from 2016 on through the 2019 season was always going to be good at first, and less good later. In 2016 he was great. In 2017, his GA-xGA of +3.14 put him at slightly below average for MLS keepers. In 2018, he currently has a -1.08 GA-xGA, 14th among keepers, or roughly league-average. Should it be better for the $2.5 million Howard is earning this year? Yes. But he isn’t bad, as many pundits have said. And goalkeeper is not the main problem with the Colorado Rapids. This grade is as subjective as anything. I’d prefer we hadn’t spent DP money on an aging keeper. But taking into account that Howard is a star, a hero, and team captain who raises the team’s profile, AND he does his job relatively well, to me, this was all-in-all an ok signing.
Sebastien Le Toux was veteran who was added late in the season for one purpose one thing: score goals in playoff crunch time. The Rapids gave up an undisclosed amount of GAM to get him. After he joined the Rapids, he had 1 goal, 2 assists in the remainder of the regular season. He started all three of the Rapids 2016 playoff games and was dangerous, putting 3 shots on target in 269 minutes but recording no goals. His contract was not renewed, and he retired after playing with DC United in 2017. It was the right idea even if it didn’t really have an impact in the end, and I assume as a short-term rental he wasn't very expensive.
OK, that’s a good place to hit ‘pause’ on part 1. I’ll keep going with part 2 early next week as we make our way to the decisions Padraig made directly as full-fledged GM.