We’re wrapping the ‘Encyclopedia of Pádraig Smith transfers’ with his latest moves; moves generally thought of as ‘bad’. My hope is to try and suss out the specifics of that claim. I anticipate that indeed, some of these moves that produced the currently 11th place, 4 win Rapids are bad. Other moves will, under the light of greater scrutiny, be deemed ‘unlucky’, and still more moves will be categorized as ‘To Be Determined’ in quality. Also, maybe there were some good moves. At the end I’ll give Pádraig a GPA for 2017 and 2018 - we’ll consider his move in 2016 part of his ‘Junior High’ record, as he was yet to be named General Manager.
Draft: Alan Winn (signed with Nashville SC), Frantzdy Pierrot (signed with Royal Mouscron), Thomas Olsen (waived), Brian Iloski (signed with Legia Warsaw), Niki Jackson (3 games played, 1 goal, 64 minutes)
This was a weird draft situation - losing three players to other teams without really ever having them on the club. Should Pádraig and the Front Office shoulder some blame that they picked players who didn’t show an interest in the Rapids? I think a little, yes. Perhaps during the 2019 MLS Combine the staff will need to spend more time on the phone with agents and in face-to-face conversations with players about their genuine interest in the playing for the Rapids. That said, these were all second, third and fourth round picks, and at this phase in MLS history, those guys rarely become first-team contributors. They’re useful to MLS teams with a “B” team down in USL as guys to fill out the roster. The fact that Niki Jackson has come out of that group as a contributor from way down at the 73rd pick is success enough.
When Johan Blomberg, a medium-paced, technical, Northern European, veteran midfield of moderate regard, was signed, all I could think was ‘why do we need a second version of Stefan Aigner?’ When the Aigner situation blew up, though, he ended up being a useful cog. Blomberg has quietly done a solid job for Colorado this year as a Swiss Army knife kinda guy. He’s started 13 matches while putting in 3 assists. He’s third on the team in Tackles with an average of 2.3 per game and fourth in Key Passes with 1.1 per game all while playing three different jobs: as a central midfielder in the 5-3-2, a defensive mid in the 5-2-2-1, and getting a few runs out at right wing back. Blomberg is making $239,808 this year, and at that price he’s a relatively good deal for a starter. There are two big caveats to that. First, Blomberg is only marginally better than starting a cheap domestic player that might have been found in the SuperDraft or from another MLS team, and he occupies an international slot, which essentially increases what we ‘pay’ for him, since international slots can regularly be sold for $150,000. Second, Blomberg would be a wonderful option to bring off of the bench, but we have to start him, and that’s not ideal. He can swing in a ball and he’s a heads-up player, but he’s not a goal-scorer, nor is he a threat to dribble at you, although his defense is surprisingly good and he can cover a lot of ground. Ultimately, this signing would be a lot better if we had to use Blomberg on field a lot less, but Johan himself is fine, I guess.
Jack McBean is the prototypical ‘guy who can do a job’ for you; in fact, I’m fairly sure I’ve heard Anthony Hudson use those exact words. The job he does is to charge around with a lot of desire but not a lot of precision, and get physical in the air winning first and second balls. What he lacks is great technical ability or pace. I think he’s an ideal 10-goal scorer for a USL team, but I’d rather have Caleb Calvert or Niki Jackson getting Jack’s minutes, and thus I don’t like this signing at all.
The Columbus Crew apparently really wanted Mike Grella. The Rapids had the third pick in the 2017 Re-entry draft, so they instructed the Rapids to take Grella, who was then traded to Columbus for a 2019 second round pick. Something from nothing.
Grade: Dumb Luck
Deklan Wynne is a New Zealand international that was brought in when Anthony Hudson, former New Zealand manager, came aboard. Every coach wants ‘their guys’, and so to a degree, this is understandable. Some of Hudson’s ‘guys’ though, haven’t been great. Wynne’s been ok. Actually, he’s been more than OK. For just $67,500 in salary, he’s provided 1620 minutes, 4.2 Clearances per game, 0.3 Blocks per game, 1.8 Interceptions per game, and 1.4 Tackles per game, for a total CBIT of 7.7 per game. To compare this defensive performance against other Rapids defenders, I made a chart:
Another way to evaluate Rapids roster signings other than grades is to think back to when a move was first rumored and ask yourself what your first thought was. Was it:
A) The Rapids are after who?
B) Well that guy’s kinda mediocre, so this move sounds about right, or
C) That guy wants to come to Colorado? Sweet!
Edgar Castillo is squarely in that final category. Not only was getting an international-caliber left back a surprise, he has been everything the team hoped for and more. His defense is tremendous, his motor is non-stop, and he has offensive tricks for days. His 2 goals, 2 assists and 25 Key Passes in 18 appearances make him perhaps the team’s most important piece in attack. His 2.7 dribbles per game are nearly double that of the next-closest Rapid, and makes him a problem for opponents to deal with and a joy for fans to watch. All that for $130,000. I wish all the deals we’d made were this glorious.
Edgar Castillo is the team’s most important attacking player. Jack Price is probably the second-most important. The self-proclaimed 'Shropshire Pirlo' has contributed 1.8 Key Passes per game, which leads the team. He also hits 7.8 Long Balls per game and an average pass distance of 52.8 yards per pass. That’s quite long. When you want the big-switch diagonal pass or the over-the-top bomb, Jack Price is your man. Jack also leads all MLS players in yellow cards with 8. His defense is solid, but clearly leans too much on ‘last minute tactical fouls’, ‘poorly timed challenges’ and ‘persistent infringement’. I think we would have liked more than 1 goal and 1 assist to date, too. His $400,000 TAM-level salary also means we come to expect more than has been delivered. Jack was probably the most important acquisition of the offseason: his role as a regista/holding midfielder was meant to be the upgrade to the departed Sam Cronin. Sam also liked to draw a yellow now and again, but defensively he was probably better than Price. So far Jack’s offensive advantages over Sam haven’t made up for the defensive downgrade, and I think a good bit of the team’s struggles have been related to that. To put it succinctly, for the Rapids to be successful, we need less Shropshire and more Pirlo from Jack Price.
Tommy Smith is plus defender who also plays long passes quite well. Apparently he’s a key locker room guy too- vocal, energetic, and well-liked. His quality and experience after 11 years at English Championship club Ipswitch has translated well to MLS. He ventures forward in attack a lot; a tactic I’m still not sold on, but that’s less Pádraig Smith’s fault than Anthony Hudson’s. He, too, has been responsible for a number of lapses, including just this past week against RSL. That’s a reality of being a defender: you aren’t gonna get ‘em all right, and Tommy gets it right more often than not. To that point, he’s also been twice named to the MLS team of the week. He’s about what you’d expect for a guy making $600,000 this year. Good pick, Pádraig.
Danny Wilson is meant to be an upgrade over Jared Watts or Eric Miller, and it’s possible that he is. But he’s also been beaten one-on-one a few too many times, and was completely murdered on May 29 by Samuel Armenteros. He’s now playing in the midfield in the new 5-2-2-1 as a d-mid, which I don’t understand, as he seems inferior to Micheal Azira at that spot. Wilson hasn’t nailed down a starting spot anywhere or proven to be a difference maker, which could be excused if he were making a league-minimum salary. Danny Wilson, however, is making $540,000 this year. This is a poor use of club resources for what they’re getting in return.
Why the Rapids are paying Andrew Dykstra $107,000 to be a third-string keeper who has spent almost every game in Charlotte is entirely beyond me. Draftee Thomas Olsen would have cost $57,000. So would Rapids Academy goalkeeper Kai Likewise. So would half the keepers in USL. Somebody must really like Dykstra or think he’s going to be special someday. Enough to essentially take $50,000 and set it on fire.
Enzo Martinez has not won over the fans in Colorado yet. The awesome offense he demonstrated with Charlotte in 2017 with 17 goals and 5 assists for the USL club didn’t port over to the Rapids. However, some of his other attributes, like his ability to cover ground and dispossess ball carriers, has been in evidence. Enzo leads the team in tackles with 2.8 per game while turning in 0.9 Key Passes per game alongside 2 assists. But while he’s proven he’s good enough to play in MLS, he’s not providing the difference in the midfield in creating goals. Partially, I think that’s a coaching issue: he’s got responsibilities in defense and wide and in shuttling, but he hasn’t been given the keys to get forward in attack as a pure 10. Against RSL and Boca Juniors in the last two games, Enzo came on in a 4-4-2 diamond at the point and was effective and dangerous, connecting the midfield and shifting the tone of those matches. It is my opinion that Martinez is better than the results to date have demonstrated - he hasn’t exactly found his right place yet. Perhaps a formation change or a modification of role will improve matters. His ideal role is probably as a late-game spark in a team with more talent in the midfield and not as an everyday midfield maestro. Still, on the veteran minimum of $67,500, he’s been a good buy.
Joe Mason started 9 games, scored 3 goals, 0 assists, and went back to Wolverhampton. That’s pretty mediocre production from a striker. All for the exorbitant price of $682,000. The Rapids probably only paid half of that though, seeing as Joe went back to England at the midpoint of the MLS season. That barely makes me feel better about this deal. Comparably-paid strikers have had far more goals this year than Mason. Gyasi Zardes has 10 goals this season; he is making $630,000. Danny Hoesen has 10 goals, too. His salary for 2018 is $518,000. Teal Bunbury has 10 goals while earning $260,000. Ismael Tajouri-Shradi has 8 goals for $350,000. With Mason, we got Jack McBean-levels of production for Dom Dwyer prices. Big. Whiff.
Niki Jackson has a long way to go to establish himself as a legitimate MLS striker. But the fourth round draft pick had already beaten the odds by making the roster before he went on to play in an MLS match, and then audaciously score just 60 seconds after subbing on. I’d like to see him get more chances, but if he never does anything in burgundy again, he still exceeded expectations tenfold.
It takes a lot of confidence for a team to sign a player to a Homegrown contract when the player is just 17 years old. But that’s just what the Rapids did when they signed Sam Vines. He’s a left back with a supple left foot. You can read more about Sam here. The goal for the team is to bring him along at just the right pace to keep his confidence up while developing his skills. Again, credit for Sam goes primarily to Marcelo Balboa, Chris Martinez, Eric Bushey, and Brian Crookham with the Rapids Academy. And Sam hasn’t broken into the first team yet - he’s still down in Charlotte honing his craft. But this is a player you should keep your eye on and be excited about.
Grade: B . Great signing, but the kid hasn't actually done anything yet.
Yannick Boli. $907,499. One goal. And it was a penalty kick goal at that. Oy vey iz mir. In 14 appearances, he has seven starts, and in those seven starts, he was subbed off before 65 minutes four times, mostly because he was utterly ineffective. For the price, he should be a game-changing striker. Instead, he hasn’t been able to beat Jack McBean out for a starting spot; he didn’t offer much even alongside Dominique Badji for support; and the club went out and took a flier on little-used MLS veteran and Liga MX bench-fodder Giles Barnes. Is this the worst deal in Rapids history? It’s close. Don’t believe me? Gabriel Torres is also remembered as a bad signing. He earned $274,000, played 55 games, had 10 goals and 5 assists. Remember the disappointing Juan Ramirez? He had 27 games, 1 goal, 3 assists. He was only paid $75,000, but the team paid a $2 million transfer fee for him. I think that’s the worst deal in Rapids history , although the trade of Kyle Beckerman for Mehdi Ballouchy in 2007 might be considered equally bad or worse. The deal to sign Boli is looking like a close second or third to those two. I WILL give this deal a F+ though for one reason: at least it’s only a one-year contract. Looking at you, Stefan Aigner deal.
Sam Nicholson has been a pretty solid addition to the team: he’s versatile in his ability to play on the left wing, at striker, or inside as a midfielder. He’s really dangerous with the ball at his feet. And the deal to get him was a good one, as the Rapids acquired him and a necessary international slot in the late Spring in exchange for Eric Miller and $50,000 in TAM. Miller wasn’t really the right guy for a back-three system with wingbacks, and besides, the Rapids were in desperate need of attacking help. His 1.1 Key Passes per game and 1.4 Dribbles per game are both third on the club, and both of those stats are indicative of a player who gets forward, causes problems, and is dangerous. However, he still needs to be a little more dangerous in shooting or a little more precise in his final pass. Lots of former Rapids could similarly be described as ‘gets forward and is dangerous’ - 1 goal and 1 assist in 13 games isn’t enough.
I’m not going to say much about either of these deals, because it's still too early to tell if they were good, bad, or indifferent. Barnes has played in one league game for Colorado (he looked good!) Acosta has yet to play for Colorado, but the deal seems like a good one, as long as the front office can eventually find the team a striker to replace Dominique Badji.
2017 PÁDRAIG SMITH GPA: 1.79 ; a C- average
2018 PÁDRAIG SMITH GPA: 2.09 ; a C average
OVERALL PÁDRAIG SMITH GPA: 1.94 ; a C/C- average
All front offices make decisions that don’t pan out. All front offices make decisions that can be called lucky breaks. It is best to eliminate the outliers and focus on the trends. So far, we can say that the Colorado Rapids under Pádraig Smith have been bad. There have been some poor and costly miscalculations. Padraig has also made some clever deals. The results so far indicate that talent identification and evaluation isn’t quite right - older players on the backsides of their careers are getting large contracts; the cost-to-benefit ratio is off with the roster, and most importantly, the players brought in haven’t gelled into a winning football team. Pádraig is about to conclude his fourth transfer window as the big boss. He has often said it will take ‘several more windows’ to assemble the team the way it should be. It remains to be seen, though, whether the clubs supporters and board of directors can wait much longer for a return to successful results.