Five questions heading into the Colorado Rapids’ 2021 season – The Denver Post

As the Colorado Rapids head into the 2021 season, there is a clear sense of optimism.

The club made its first playoff appearance since 2017 last season — a 3-0 loss to Minnesota United FC — signaling it is heading in the right direction

The Rapids return everyone from their starting unit, including several young players with another year of experience. And reinforcements were brought in — most notably FC Dallas winger Michael Barrios.

Data analytics site FiveThirtyEight gives the Rapids a 61% chance to return to the playoffs and 3% chance to win the MLS Cup. The sports betting oddsmakers aren’t so optimistic. Sportsbooks operators have odds on them to win the MLS Cup as high as 80/1 and as low as 34/1.

If the Rapids are going to prove them wrong, here are five things to keep an eye on:

Can they solidify a striker? 

Kei Kamara was the clear starter at the No. 9 position for a few seasons, but the Rapids traded him last year and lost their only traditional striker in the process.

Diego Rubio was the one who filled in and is expected to be the starter this year. But, with the addition of Barrios, Andre Shinyashiki is likely to move away from the wing and compete with Rubio at the No. 9. Can one of those two solidify themselves as the team’s striker? More importantly, can they provide enough scoring and support to all the skill around them?

Can the backline hold up?

The narrative surrounding this Rapids team nationally is they’re a fun team to watch and a fun team to play against.

“They’re probably not as good a defensive team as the box score numbers said they were down the stretch,” MLSsoccer.com analyst Matthew Doyle said. “Simply put: their central midfield is kind of easy to play against. They’re not great at getting pressure to the ball, and that forces the backline to scramble perfectly or concede.”

The center backs tend to be put in vulnerable positions with the fullbacks often springing forward. This leads to a lot of easy chances for opponents. Can the midfielders do a better job possessing the ball and pressing when they give it up? Can the backline be more disciplined against counterattacks? A recent friendly against LAFC raised a few red flags.

Are the young stars ready? 

After some sublime performances for the United States Men’s National Team, Sam Vines is on everybody’s radar.

Some have tabbed him as the left back of the future for the USMNT. Can he become a consistent force in Colorado? He needs to continue to create chances for the Rapids going forward but, more importantly, show improvement defensively. It is pretty clear he has incredible passing ability but to be the future of the USMNT, he has to be able to defend the best wingers in MLS one-on-one.

Cole Bassett proved last season he is one of the better youngsters in MLS. But he was left off the U23 Olympic qualifying team for a reason. Can he solidify himself as one of the best attacking midfielders in MLS this season?

Jonathan Lewis looked like one of the better players for the U23s during Olympic qualifying. He tied Bassett for the team lead in goals last season. Now he needs to become a consistent force in MLS and regular starter for Colorado. He has too much talent not to.

Can set piece luck continue?

In 2019, the Rapids led MLS in set-piece goals. A year later, they were fifth, including a few critical goals at the death. It would be folly to expect that trend to continue.

Although their set-piece takers, Jack Price and Kellyn Acosta, are still on the roster, they no longer have one of the best set-piece scorers in league history in Kamara. They need to find a way to score open play goals and not rely as much on restart goals.

How will Coach Fraser handle the roster? 

Rapids coach Robin Fraser has plenty of options across multiple positions. One of the big questions is on the wing. Younes Namli and Nicolas Benezet typically started there last season, with Lewis coming off the bench. Now Barrios is in the mix as well. Going off preseason, it appears Namli will play some more in midfield but there will still be some matchups where he’s too much of a liability defensively in that spot.

The midfield is clear with Acosta, Bassett and Price, but what happens when Namli slots in there? Will Fraser want to develop homegrown talent like Oliver Larraz in the midfield? Speaking of homegrown players, does Darren Yappi find his way in the striker rotation?

Do they continue to go with the veteran presence of Drew Moor or Danny Wilson next to Lalas Abubukar on the backline? Or do they put faith in talented youngsters like Auston Trusty or Kortne Ford?

How Fraser deals with the rotation could indicate how committed Colorado is to its youth movement.

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