After winning the 2010 MLS Cup, defeating Dallas 2-1 in extra time, the defending champion Colorado Rapids are sitting pretty come the January 13 MLS Superdraft. Despite the expansion draft for MLS' two new 2011 franchises, the Vancouver Whitecaps, and the Portland Timbers, Colorado managed to keep its entire starting XI from the MLS Cup intact.
The MLS Superdraft will be three rounds this year, with expansion clubs Vancouver and Portland picking first and second each round, and MLS Cup Champions Colorado picking last at 18th and 36th. The draft lasts three rounds, but the Rapids only have picks in the first two, having traded away their 2011 third round pick along with midfielder Nick LaBrocca to Toronto FC for Marvell Wynne during the season.
Following the Superdraft, there will be a supplemental draft for players that were not selected initially.
The Rapids are in a low pressure situation. They don't have to worry about swinging for the fences with a high draft pick and missing. With the main starting XI returning, the Rapids merely need to add smart depth and players that can develop behind the front XI into future starters.
Colorado's Depth Needs By Position
Matt Pickens, at age 28, has ensconsed himself as the starter for the future with a near-MLS Cup MVP performance, earning himself a USMNT January camp call-up. Backup Ian Joyce only played one game, but is only 25 with some Champions League experience, and Colorado is also carrying 23-year-old Steward Ceus. Colorado is loaded with young goalies, and barring a move for a veteran backup for Pickens, it may behoove the Rapids to pick up someone like Denver University's own Joe Willis in the supplemental draft for competition and the reserve squad.
The Rapids traded center backs Julian Baudet and Danny Earls prior to the expansion draft in order to protect more of the starting roster. They have since signed former Rapid and MLS veteran Tyrone Marshall, 36, to be the big body off the bench. Drew Moor and Marvell Wynne are a quality center tandem, but will need more than just Marshall behind them.
Koske Kimura and Anthony Wallace have the right and left fullback positions locked down. The only backups to these positions are currently slotting midfielder Wells Thompson at left back, or having Marvell Wynne slide over to the right.
The Rapids almost certainly will get a defensive back in this draft. Quality players who may be available with the 18th pick:
Michael Tetteh (LB, USCB). Tetteh is a speedy, attacking left back, and Generation Addidas player, who could also be slotted at left wing. Would he fall this far? There are 9 other Gen Add players, and a handful of others who could insert themselves between Tetteh and the 18th pick.
A.J. Soares (CB, Cal). Soares is a pure center back, and a good passer, and is probably MLS-ready. He may not fall this far, however.
Michael Boxall (CB, UCSB). Boxall, another pure center back, also has international experience with the New Zealand youth squads, and may be more MLS-ready than most. Boxall is likely to be available at No. 18.
Conor Casey and Omar Cummings formed arguably the league's best strike duo in 2010, with 27 goals between them. Cummings is off on a short-term loan to Aston Villa for the winter, which should be great news for his form when he rejoins the Rapids in March.
There is almost no chance Cummings will make a permanent move to Villa. He has two years left on his contract, and Villa will have to offer quite a high price to make it permanent—rumors say $3 million. That would have to happen soon, as Colorado would then need to use that money to get another striker by the end of the January transfer window.
More likely, Colorado is going to offer Omar a generous contract extension this year and keep him a Rapid.
Mac Kandji was supposed to be the perfect number three striker, and he was, his soft lob in overtime of the MLS Cup turning into the winning own goal. Unfortunately, Kandji tore his ACL on the play, and will not return until mid-season, and will have to play his way back into form.
Casey and Cummings can't play every minute this season, and there are six or more extra games for the Rapids in the CONCACAF Champions League. The only other two strikers on the Rapids' roster are Quincy Amarikwa and Andre Akpan, both 23. It's possible one or the other could develop into the third striker role, but neither played much in 2010, and if a quality striker were available at No. 18, it would be tough for the Rapids to pass by.
Strikers that could be available at the end of the first round include:
Victor Estupiñán (Ecuador). Estupinan is a member of the senior national side, and is on loan to MLS. He hasn't had a great combine, but is considered a very skilled attacker, and could be a steal at No. 18. Even though it would initially be a shorter-term signing, the Rapids expect to have Mac Kandji back at some point.
Jason Herrick (Maryland). May be one of the best forwards left at slot No. 18.
Justin Meram (Michigan). Could be one of the steals of the draft at any number. He was a dangerous score-from-anywhere player at Michigan, is looking good in the combine, and if available at No. 18 is probably the best player.
John Rooney (England). Wayne's lil' bro. It's hard to project where or if he'll go in the first round, so he may very well be available. He's shown that he's good on the ball and has scored in the combine, and has English Champions and Coca-Cola league experience, which may be attractive to Gary Smith.
C.J. Sapong (James Madison). Sapong is pushed down by all the Generation Addidas talent going in the top 10, and this speedy attacker may be ready to come off the bench.
The Rapids are well stocked in the midfield. Current central starters Jeff Larentowicz and Pablo Mastroeni formed one of the toughest defensive duos in the league, and the team was bolstered by excellent outside service from wings Jamie Smith and Brian Mullan, backed up by Wells Thompson. The team also added speedy, versatile midfielder Sanna Nyassi, and has a total of nine mids on the current roster.
The Rapids have depth in the midfield, especially with the addition of Nyassi, who can play wing or forward late in games.
It's not out of the question that if a high-level midfield talent were available with the 18th pick that the Rapids would draft them. Versatility would be the key to such a selection.
Potential midfield fits for the Rapids at pick No. 18:
Ashley McInnes (M/F, Tulsa). The pacey native Scot would make a lot of sense for the Rapids, with his ability to play both forward and midfield.
Stephen McCarthy (UNC). McCarthy might be the prototypical Gary Smith midfielder, tough, a defensive-minded passer, and with a high work rate, useful for subbing Larentowicz and Mastroeni, and with an eye towards the future in the center.
There will be a lot of other midfielders available with this pick, but Colorado has much higher needs at center back and forward, and if any of the better options are available, they'll grab them, rather than waste this pick within a pool of similarly graded midfielders at this point.
Note that the Rapids will not be taking a "creative" midfield option, such as Anthony Ampaipitakwong or Justin Farfan, should they be available. They won't fit into Gary Smith's EPL-style system.
Lastly, if you wonder if any of these players will be available when the Rapids select, you can bank on it. The Rapids pick 18th, and I've listed 10 players that would potentially be good picks. All 10 Generation Addidas players will be selected before the Rapids pick, leaving seven teams to pick seven of the ten possibilities listed. Most likely the Rapids will have four to six of these players available to choose from.