What Next For The Rapids After Zardes Departure Confirmed?
As expected, having previously been rumored, striker Gyasi Zardes has swapped the Centennial State for the Lone Star State, completing his move to Austin FC as a free agent having spent much of 2022 with the Colorado Rapids.
It was never a given that the 31-year-old would re-sign for the Rapids, especially considering the sums involved (up to an additional $1.1m, on top of the $300k initially paid to Columbus back in April). He departs having managed nine goals (including one penalty) and two assists in 26 appearances (24 starts).
The failure by the Rapids to secure the return of the former LA Galaxy and Columbus star will be a blow to the club, who last week brought in French winger Kevin Cabral. Cabral has spent the previous two seasons at the Galaxy.
Though a set-back, it will not have come as a complete surprise, especially as the move to Austin had been a topic of conversation among the MLS community for some weeks.
But it does mean the Rapids have some offseason challenges. Does this departure increase the need for a point man, or do they work with what they have? If the latter, then the scenarios are varied.
Firstly, they could thrust last season’s MVP up top. Diego Rubio netted a club record-equaling 16 goals, beating his previous career-high of 11, achieved in 2019 - his first season with the club. Thing is, in both those seasons he was not the 9, rather the man in the shadows operating behind target men such as Kei Kamara and then Zardes.
That albeit limited snapshot suggests he would prosper with a big frame ahead of him. So, is that Darren Yapi - who was a bit-part player in 2022 but at some point, needs to be given an opportunity - or is the club needing to dip into the coffers and go in search of a replacement for the recently departed Zardes?
If Rubio does drop in behind a front man, into the role which numbers appear to show suits him, then what does mean for the makeup of the rest of the attacking shape?
Head coach Robin Fraser has switched things up a bit with his formation. Since arriving in the latter part of 2019, fans have witnessed - amongst others - a 4-3-3, 3-5-2, 5-3-2, and 4-2-3-1.
Let’s assume as many of the starters as we can, when fit and healthy. Give or take, I would suggest William Yarborough, Keegan Rosenberry, Lalas Abubakar, Jack Price, Diego Rubio, and Kevin Cabral. That’s just six players and leaves five starting spots up for grabs.
What do we do with Sam Nicholson, Jonathan Lewis, Michael Barrios, Braian Galvan, Cole Bassett, Bryan Acosta, Max Alves, Gustavo Vallecila, and Aboubacar Keita? (And, remember, two of those players - Galvan and Keita - will be available for 2023 after missing all of 2022 following respective ACL injuries).
You see the problem? It could be easy to add in Galvan, Nicholson, and Acosta to the starters already suggested. After all, there is a surplus of players on the wings, while Galvan and Nicholson could operate as wingbacks in a 3-5-2/5-3-2. That right wing-back position for Nicholson was certainly discussed by Fraser toward the end of last season.
The Rapids’ cup runneth over out wide but successful sides usually have two key components, an organized defense, and a solid spine. Those are areas in which the Rapids could do with an upgrade.
They have lost their backup goalkeeper in Clint Irwin, who last week wandered off to Minnesota United, and could do with additional bodies at center back, central midfield, and center forward. As yet, we have no idea what Keita will bring, while question marks remain regarding Vallecilla and Danny Wilson.
Last season the Rapids leaked 57 goals, only ‘bettered’ in three of the more challenging seasons over the last decade (2014, 2018, and 2019).
As much as the loss of Zardes was not entirely unexpected, it does add a further wrinkle in the Rapids’ offseason plans. Does the club place all its eggs in the Rubio basket and hope he hits somewhere near his 2022 form? Do they get out the check book to bring in a proven striker? Or does Yapi get more than a few minutes at the end of games in an attempt to show the talent we are told is most definitely there?
Find below a few possible starting lineups, based upon what the roster currently looks like. Let me know your thoughts on Twitter @FlemingSport.