Shelzen Gashi

Colorado Rapids 2017 Season Preview by Benjamin Bellman

Apart from the mid-season miracle of Nicholas Lodeiro’s arrival in Seattle, the Colorado Rapids were surely the biggest turnaround in MLS in 2016. Pablo Mastroeni’s first two years as head coach saw the Rapids finishing in 9th and 10th in the Western Conference. But after a flurry of offseason moves, Colorado finished 2nd in the West and league tables, competing with FC Dallas for the Supporter’s Shield until the very last week. New Designated Players Shkelzen Gashi and Tim Howard, and bonus pick up Jermaine Jones, helped cement a team culture and identity consistent with Mastroeni’s reputation of sacrifice and grit, and the Rapids didn't lose at home in 2016 until the Western Conference Championship.

While the Rapids were far more successful than last year, their tactics didn't change dramatically. The 2016 Rapids rank among the best defenses in league history, giving up 32 goals against, fewer than one goal per game. (And consider that five happened all in one game!) A mix of old and new-comers solidified Mastroeni’s vision. Axel Sjoberg earn his place as a finalist for Defender of the Year. Michael Azira, a Sounders cast-off, made a perfect match to Sam Cronin as a pair of dominant defensive midfields also dangerous in springing counter attacks. Offensively, the Rapids capitalized on opponents’ mistakes, quick breaks, and flashes of brilliance from across the roster. Gashi also scored an outrageous number of outrageous goals. Still, the Rapids only produced 39 goals from 37.47 xG (20th in MLS), tying the Dynamo for second-fewest. Yet no team let in fewer goals than the Rapids, who allowed fewer than one per game (32 goals against on 41.91 xGA, 4th in MLS). This team is defined by its defense, and after this offseason it’s clear that won’t change in 2017.

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