Sunday night’s season opener against the Colorado Rapids is the perfect opportunity for the Seattle Sounders to start off MLS 2023 with a win. The Sounders are 23-8-4, +26 against the Rapids in MLS play. Colorado only has one win over Seattle since November 2020.
Robin Fraser’s Rapids finished one spot ahead of Seattle last year, and has since added six significant talents requiring transfer fees or allocation money. Where the Sounders stood pat in a soft reload, Colorado is trying to rebuild. They lost Gyasi Zardes (9 goals all comps 2022) and replaced him with forwards Kévin Cabral (3 all comps goals in 2022) and Calvin Harris (1 all comps goal in 2022), getting much younger in the process. Both Cabral and Harris are under 24.
Colorado also lost Clint Irwin but added to their defense, signing several defenders from overseas while taking keeper Marko Ilić on loan to compete with William Yarbrough for starting minutes.
For Holding the High Line, Mark and Matt answer Four Questions. They also host the Rapids 96 Podcast.
SaH: What are the expectations for the Colorado Rapids after last year’s 10th place finish?
HtHL (Mark): For Rapids fans, the expectation is that a healthy year with Jack Price, an upgrade in central defense with Andreas Maxsø, a rebound year for new addition Kévin Cabral, and another big season from Diego Rubio will have the team grabbing one of the late playoff spots. Pundits are less convinced, considering the defense in 2022 was pretty leaky, conceding 57 goals. The Rapids will need to do better this season. The midfield three is also a big question. Set piece wizard and regista Jack Price will be joined by Cole Bassett, who returns chastened and unloved from a loan stint in Holland, and newcomer Connor Ronan who joins the team from Wolverhampton. Left back is also a question, as the team might start new singing Alex Gersbach, who comes from Grenoble 38, or play with Braian Galván as a wing back - Galván was out in 2022 with a torn ACL. So, there’s a lot of question marks here.
SaH: I haven’t done the math, but it’s possible that the Rapids spent more money on multiple players than any other MLS side. Which signing are you most excited to see in burgundy?
HtHL (Matt): I heard from leagues sources that the Rapids paid for $300K for Andreas Maxsø, $500K for Connor Ronan, and $250K (plus $100K performance kicker) for Alex Gersbach. So just over a million for the three in total. Before someone pooh-poohs those numbers, Maxsø and Gersbach were out of contract this summer and looking to leave anyways. Wolves have a good relationship with the Rapids going back to the Jack Price transfer, and Ronan’s also an academy product, so all reports out of the Midlands are that Wolves made it a sweetheart deal. Just because the transfer fees were bargain prices doesn’t mean they’re bargain players.
To answer the question directly, I’m most excited about Maxsø. He’s got all the physical attributes. He’s got strengths where the existing centerbacks (Abubakar and Wilson) have weaknesses. The Rapids ain’t spending a DP slot on a centerback unless the analytics team loves his passing and defensive metrics, the scouting team thinks he’s a clear upgrade on Wilson, and Robin Fraser seems a leader of young players in him. Ronan should be a good complementary piece next to Price. Gersbach might be a bit of a project given he’s coming from the French second division. Based on pedigree and price (transfer fee + salary), Maxsø should be one of the best new center backs in the league this year.
Sources on both sides of the pond are high on Marko Ilić. If he can unseed William Yarbrough by the end of the summer, I think the Rapids absolutely trigger the option to buy. I’m not as excited about him because it is a loan with an option, and we’ve seen that not work out before with the Rapids.
SaH: With all the options that Robin Fraser has available, will there be a tactical shift to try to fit everyone, or more squad rotation, or some other solution?
HtHL (Mark): In my years watching the team, I don’t get the sense that Fraser is big on rotation. He likes to give his top guys most of the minutes. My guess is the team will play in a mix of 4-3-3 and 3-4-3. Fraser’s system typically involves moving the ball across the pitch a lot to open up gaps, and playing diagonals to the wings. When Jonathan Lewis is on the ball down the left, he typically dribbles at opponents and opens space for others. And the Rapids have been above-average in MLS over the past few years at converting corner kicks for goals, due to the pinpoint accuracy of Jack Price and the meaty Ghanaian forehead of Lalas Abubakar.
SaH: What’s your biggest concern coming into 2023 and the four major trophies on offer?
HTHL (Matt): I’ve got two big concerns. The first is the same issue the Rapids have had for years: Other teams have game-changing DPs and the Rapids largely don’t. Can Diego Rubio become that for a few games at a time? Yes. But he’s not Vela, Lodeiro, or Reynoso. Kévin Cabral was the big Distressed Assets FC acquisition this winter. Can Fraser get more out of him in a healthier situation than LA Galaxy? I think so. Is he suddenly going to become an elite finisher? Probably not. The next step for the Rapids is to get back to the playoffs and win a game/round/best of three. When you have to go on the road and play Sebastián Driussi and you don’t have a talisman of your own, it’s hard to win playoff games, let alone trophies.
My second concern is there’s going to be a lot of new pieces. You’re easily looking at five new starters, with most of those changes in defense. Maxsø and Gersbach both on the left side of a back four or five, possibly Ilić in goal. It’s going to take time to build chemistry. Between Leagues Cup and hopefully more than one Open Cup game (the Rapids love getting Cupset), there’ll be plenty of games to build that. I think they’ll be clicking in the fall. But this Sunday might be a tough one given Seattle’s already played their first competitive game of the year.