Robin Fraser helped lead the Colorado Rapids back to the playoffs in 2020 and despite an early exit at the hands of Minnesota United, it was a step in the right direction for the club after past struggles. Now the goal will be to get back to the postseason and become more consistent as a whole in a full 2021 campaign.
The Rapids possess a good mixture of youth and experience in their roster coming into the new MLS season, a positive base for Fraser to work with this spring. It’s a new chapter of an exciting project in Colorado, but the goal remains to win and win now.
“I think we have an exciting project here and I am glad to be a part of it,” Rapids striker Andre Shinyashiki told SBI. “It’s really exciting for me, I really look up to some of the guys in our team and to have plenty of familiar faces back, it’s good business by the club.”
“It was key to keep the core group and important guys, but also adding pieces was also important. We had a successful season last year, but our project is still growing and we still have a bit more to go to get to where we want to be. We want to win trophies and I believe this group is good enough to get there.”
Shinyashiki is one of several key starters in the Rapids squad, which also features Cole Bassett, Auston Trusty, and Sam Vines. The former University of Denver product heads into his third MLS season, and will hope for a bounce back season after seeing his goals drop from seven to four.
Diego Rubio, Jonathan Lewis, and offseason acquisition Michael Barrios are also options in the top of Fraser’s 4-2-3-1 formation. Barrios and Lewis will likely play out wide, while Rubio splits time with Shinyashiki at the solo striker position.
“Michael has come into camp with a hungry attitude and he’s been working extremely hard,” Fraser told SBI. “We are very fortunate to have acquired him this offseason and I think his experience in this league is a major boost for our attacking group of players. There’s nothing better than having a veteran guy come into the squad, especially one that has attacking abilities like him.”
One thing is for sure, the Rapids have a top crop of young talent and all of them will need to be ready to go come mid-April.
“I think we rank among the best in the league, if not the best,” Shinyashiki said about the young players on the roster. “We have guys like John [Lewis] and Sam [Vines] who were part of the U.S. Olympic Qualifying team and did well in the tournament. Both are high-caliber players who will only get better with more chances.
“We also have veteran players like Kellyn Acosta, Lalas Abubakar, and Drew Moor, who know what it takes to be successful,” Shinyashiki said. “I think we have a great group here and everybody will need to be ready to go come April 17th. We can’t afford to start off slow, so starting fast is key for a group like us.”
Abubakar and Trusty are the focal points of the backline, which also will likely see Vines and Keegan Rosenberry at the fullback positions. All four have played ample minutes for the Rapids and will try to keep opposing goal-scoring to a minimum.
Trusty and Abubakar helped the Rapids concede only 28 goals in 18 regular season matches in a shortened 2020 campaign, and both will be key leaders of the team’s defensive structure going forward.
“I think all of the defenders have exceptional qualities,” Shinyashiki said. “You have two guys in Lalas and Auston that are really athletic and are all over the pitch. They make plays that some of the guys in the league don’t. We also have Drew [Moor] and Danny [Wilson] who are quality on the ball and can pass it around the pitch. We also have Kortne Ford, who just came back from an injury and who is trying to prove himself.”
“Lalas is a veteran guy in this league who does exceptionally well at being a leader in our group,” Fraser said. “He is very talented and is one of the best in our league when it comes to defending. Auston is a young talent and he is coming into his own in our project. I think he along with other young players will be key for our team this season and I’ve been pleased with their developments as players overall.”
Here is a closer look at the 2020 Colorado Rapids:
2021 Colorado Rapids Season Preview
2020 Finish: 5th place in the West, 8-6-4 (28 points)
Key Acquisitions: Michael Barrios, Dantouma Toure
Key Losses: Jeremy Kelly (Loan), Deklan Wynne (Loan).
Newcomer to Watch
Michael Barrios’ arrival from FC Dallas not only gives Robin Fraser another attacking option to choose from, but hopefully helps take the pressure off other forwards in the mix.
Barrios, 29, brings a good mix of speed and creativity to the Rapids offensive corps, and is two seasons off his best statistical season in MLS. Maybe he can find that form again in Colorado.
Pressure is On
Diego Rubio signed a contract extension this offseason through 2022 and will be keen to bounce back this season. After netting 11 goals with Sporting KC in 2019, Rubio could only muster three in 17 appearances last season.
The Chilean will be fighting with Shinyashiki for the starting striker spot, but could start the season off the bench if Fraser decides to go with the younger option.
Even though the playoff run for the Rapids never really got started, it was a good season for Colorado after a poor 2019. Now for Fraser and his players, it will be about being consistent throughout the seven month regular season and aim for a deeper run come playoff time.
The main positive for Fraser is he has many familiar faces back this season to help propel the team forward. Abubakar and Trusty will lead by example in the backline while Rosenberry and Vines try to help connect passes with their midfield and forward teammates.
William Yarbrough’s permanent acquisition is a plus too, after the former Club Leon goalkeeper helped solidify a goalkeeping position that was shaky since Tim Howard’s departure.
The offense doesn’t have a marquee name to lead the way, but it has many players that can win a match on a given night. Lewis, Mezquida, Barrios, and Namli will all look to create chances whether it be from themselves or by setting up their teammates.
Acosta and Bassett are talented midfielders who can also deliver impressive moments when called upon, continuing the list of attacking threats for Fraser to rely on. Shinyashiki and Rubio only totaled seven league goals between them in 2020, but will be eager to change that in 2021.
“Kellyn and Cole are two very talented players and I think makes our group very balanced,” Fraser said. “Kellyn is a leader in our group too and has worked really hard to get himself back into the U.S. Men’s National Team picture. Cole will only get better with more minutes and I fully expect him to play a key role this season in the way we set up our midfield.”
With Austin FC coming into the now-13 team Western Conference, it will make obtaining a playoff spot that much harder for the Rapids. Still, if the Rapids can stand firm and avoid any inconsistent spells throughout the season, they can return to the playoffs and hopefully grab a first playoff win since 2016.
“Austin FC coming in just adds another hungry team to the mix in the Western Conference,” Fraser said. “When you think of the top teams in our league, you have to consider Seattle, LAFC, Portland in the West, which means we won’t have any easy games once again this season.”
“Our expectations are to continue to improve after last season where we had a decent year and made the playoffs. It was an odd year for sure, but we will do our best to start the season strong and put ourselves in a good situation right off the bat. If we do enough things right then we should find ourselves with a fair amount of good results.”
Colorado Rapids Roster
Goalkeeper: Clint Irwin, Abraham Rodriguez, William Yarbrough.
Defenders: Lalas Abubakar, Sebastian Anderson, Steven Beitashour, Michael Edwards, Kortne Ford, Jeremy Kelly, Drew Moor, Keegan Rosenberry, Auston Trusty, Sam Vines, Danny Wilson, Deklan Wynne.
Midfielders: Kellyn Acosta, Cole Bassett, Oliver Larraz, Philip Mayaka, Nicolas Mezquida, Younes Namli, Jack Price, Collen Warner.
Forwards: Michael Barrios, Nicolas Benezet, Braian Galvan, Matt Hundley, Jonathan Lewis, Diego Rubio, Andre Shinyashiki, Dantouma Toure, Darren Yapi.