2014 MLS Season Preview: Nick Labrocca To Shine At Center Mid
The Colorado Rapids are looking to build off a successful 2013 campaign that saw them make the playoffs after a year hiatus. For the Rapids, a good portion of last season was spent searching for ways to replace tenured center midfielder Pablo Mastroeni and things have not changed. Their 2014 season hinges on how quickly he can be replaced. Luckily enough for the Rapids, they go in to the season with a number of veterans including Edson Buddle, Gabriel Torres and Nick Labrocca to carry the ropes. But it is the youth that brings their ceiling sky high. Rookie of the Year Winner and Runner Up, Dillon Powers and Deshorn Brown respectively, will look to build off a successful rookie season and prevent the “sophomore slump”. The prognosis for the Rapids is promising and it is assumed that anything less then the playoffs would be a disappointment.
The Rapids feature a formidable, but not lethal, strike duo up top that includes Panamanian, Torres and former US International, Buddle. The two have the potential of providing the Rapids with goals if they can mesh together at the beginning of the season. The Rapids have a bevy of forwards and if they decide to play with three up top then expect Vicente Sanchez to play on the left. The former Uruguayan International will look to improve on his lackluster 2013 season and return to form. Where the Rapids have the potential to shine is in their depth and attacking options. These three players, along with Brown have the ability to play anywhere and could lead to the Rapids scoring goals at a record clip.
The midfield for the Rapids is possibly the strongest and most deep part of their team. They return the aforementioned Powers and Brown who should provide plenty of service to the forwards. The duo can control the game from the outsides, a trait US soccer fans are unaccustomed to. The outside-in approach leaves questions in the center of the park, but those should be answered by former MLS All Star and journeyman, Nick Labrocca. The seven-year veteran brings unparalleled work rate and impeccable technical abilities that will be much needed for the team to succeed. If Labrocca and crew can hold down the center then expect this to be one of the best mid-field crews in the league.
After starting 31 games last year, Clint Irwin will be back between the pipes. He will be looking to improve upon a season in which he averaged a shutout every three games.
Behind Irwin, the Rapids return last year starting back four that surrendered the third fewest goals in the league. Anchoring the back line is Drew Moor, Chris Klute, Shane O’Neill and Marvell Wynne. Wynne, a former No. 1 draft pick, brings an English-like game to the wing back spot and should provide great cover and support to Powers and Dillon in the attacking third of the field. The captain, Moor and O’Neil are well equipped to shoulder the load in the middle but do not expect a similar goals against average. The Rapids will put more emphasis on attacking this year, leaving their defenders out to dry at times.
If rumors are correct, Mastroeni is running the Rapids’ preseason camp. While he is a great choice, the interim tag must be removed to provide cohesion within and ensure the team starts the season strong. If this occurs quickly we expect the Rapids to have a break out season. The efficiency their outside wings provide will allow the Rapids to score goals at record rates. Do not be surprised if the Rapids finish in second place (18-7-9) in the Western Conference and make a run well into the MLS playoffs.