18 Feb 19
The Denver Post
Offseason changes to the attack
Returnees: Sam Nicholson (ST), Shkelzen Gashi (ST), Niki Jackson (ST)
Subtractions: Giles Barnes (ST/CAM), Yannick Boli (ST), Jack McBean (ST), Caleb Calvert (ST)
Additions: Kei Kamara (ST), Diego Rubio (ST), Andre Shinyashiki (ST), Matt Hundley (FWD)
Colorado hasn’t had a goalscorer with even the modest sum of 10 goals since Deshorn Brown back in 2014, and the Rapids haven’t been in the top half of the league in goals scored since 2013. The sum total of all of the team’s offseason moves, as well as formation changes, are aimed at correcting that.
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The Rapids started by shedding two would-be starting strikers, expensive disappointment Yannick Boli, and “guy who can do a job but isn’t really a top-flight striker” Jack McBean. That is in addition to the departures of Caleb Calvert, a young talent who never quite broke through, and short-term rental Giles Barnes, who I recall having a really awesome shot in his first game with the Rapids in July, and then promptly never doing anything of value again.
None of these guys will be missed. The four of them collectively scored fewer goals all season than Rapids defenders Edgar Castillo and Tommy Smith.
Four strikers are supposed to score more than two defenders, kids.
The Rapids brought in veteran target forward Kei Kamara from Vancouver. Kamara is a striker that likes to bang in goals with his head wherever he goes. Kamara has 112 goals over his 12 years in MLS, and rattled in 14 goals last season. He’s 34 years old, but he has also stayed remarkably healthy as he reaches his sunset years — he has racked up more than 2,000 minutes a year, every year, since 2008. Hopefully, Colorado can use his big 6-foot-3 frame to hold up the ball, send through runners into the box and post up for far-post-dunks on corner kicks and crosses. Kamara’s skill set unlocks a lot of other offensive options for the Rapids that they haven’t had in almost a decade since club legend-turned-assistant coach Conor Casey was terrorizing Western Conference opponents by power-heading everything into the net with his shiny bald dome. If Kamara does his job, he’ll require opposing teams to keep him close or double-team him when he gets close to goal. And that would allow all sorts of mayhem from other attackers coming into the box — kind of like in the NBA, where LeBron James sucks in all the defenders as he backs into the key, and that gives his perimeter players wide-open looks.
Colorado also added Diego Rubio from Sporting Kansas City as part of a three-way trade that sent Kellyn Rowe and cash to SKC and sent Edgar Castillo to New England. (Keeping Castillo would have necessitated buying him from Liga MX team Monterrey for a big fee.) He’s quick and a very technical dribbler, so he’ll play quite nicely off of Kamara. Rubio had 8 goals in just 781 minutes last year. For comparison, it took Rapids leading scorer Dom Badji 1,343 minutes to get seven goals for the club — before he was traded to Dallas.
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To those likely first-teamers, Colorado added NCAA Division I leading goalscorer Andre Shinyashiki from nearby University of Denver via the MLS SuperDraft, trading cash to move up to the fifth overall pick in order to get him. He had an outrageous 28 goals in 2018. The Brazilian-born Shinyashiki is pure confidence in front of the net — if he gets a little space in the box to operate, he is absolutely lethal. The leap from the Summit League to MLS is quite large, though, and it will take some adjustment. But I think it’s feasible that Andre could produce 5-7 goals his first year in a mostly-bench role. Alongside him, the Rapids have Niki Jackson, a pacey and clever striker that in short bursts created real problems for opponents. He will be a work in progress, but as a “break-in-case-of-emergency” option, he’s great to have.
Shkelzen Gashi is warm and funny and gregarious as a person. He has a good attitude and can deliver a deadly curving shot in a dead-ball situation. But he doesn’t score much, or run much, or stay healthy, or give the team more than 15 good minutes of football in a match. All that is bad from any player, let alone one of the team’s two Designated Players. I would like for Gashi to return in 2019 to what he was in 2016 and before — a long-shot specialist and free-kick savant. But odds are he’ll just be hurt, disappointing or both. Personally, I’d rather have spent this paragraph talking about exciting young wing attacker Matt Hundley. In due time, my young padawans.
Better, worse or the same?
Much, much better. If the first two strikers on this squad went down with injury, I’d still think the attack was much, much better. I’m not big on guarantees. But I guarantee that with this group of scorers, Colorado will definitely score more than the paltry 36 goals they accrued in 2018.
These Rapids certainly aren’t good enough to win the MLS Cup or even make a deep run in the playoffs. The defense is just a series of question marks alongside bright orange traffic cone emojis, and the midfield only has three proven players. Simply put, in order to be successful in 2019 with the team composed the way it is, they’ll need to win a lot of 3-2 shootouts — something that Rapids fans have basically never done since perhaps the original days of this club. That’s exciting — and also terrifying.
To be successful, the team will also need several players to rebound and several unknown players to overperform. If you need to hope for “all the stars to line up” in order to have a winning season, it’s not a great starting point for the year.
However, put all the variables together, and it seems clear that this team will be better than they were in 2018 or 2017. They have a returning coach and a defined system and formation going into the season. With Benny Feilhaber, Kamara and Kellyn Acosta, they’ve got a troika of MLS veterans that arrive with a track record of success. With Cole Bassett, Shinyashiki, Sam Vines and Keegan Rosenberry, they have several young and exciting players to build upon.
This team can make the playoffs this season with an eye toward the future. And that is giving Rapids fans an odd feeling, I think. Fans might be unfamiliar with that feeling since it has been a long time since they’ve felt this way about the team. That feeling is called hope. We sure are glad to see it again.