For the Colorado Rapids, the 2018 campaign was about a rebuild. With a new coach and a new system being put into place, the Rapids' aim was to identify players who can be centerpieces going forward and, if they weren't already on the roster, go out and get them. The 2018 season was about establishing a direction more than anything.
They did just that by going to get Kellyn Acosta midseason, and that process continued heading into the 2019 campaign.
It was a busy offseason for the Rapids, who scoured MLS in search of pieces both young and old to fit their roster. Veterans like Kei Kamara and Benny Feilhaber were brought in while Diego Rubio, Nicolas Mezquida and Keegan Rosenberry were added as well with one eye on the present and one on the future.
If 2018 was about rebuilding, 2019 is about showing that the team has been moving in that direction and, ultimately, that the direction has been forward.
How did the Rapids perform in 2018?
2018 finish: 11th in the Western Conference (8-19-7), missed playoffs.
After parting ways with Pablo Mastroeni, the Rapids turned to Anthony Hudson to rebuild the squad in 2018. The Rapids struggled to score all through the season, finishing dead last in MLS with just 36 goals scored, seven fewer than any other team. In the end, the Rapids were never really near the playoff picture while the team's highly-regarded defense took a step back by conceding 63 times.
Rapids' key offseason losses
The Rapids parted ways with a number of familiar faces this offseason, lead by Marlon Hairston. Drafted by the club in 2014, Hairston broke out in 2017 but saw his role reduced last season. Versatile enough to play in a number of positions, Hairston landed with the Houston Dynamo this offseason in a move that should give him a more consistent role.
Edgar Castillo was also traded this offseason, vacating the left back position. That area is a bit more of a concern than Hairston's right back spot, which offseason signing Keegan Rosenberry should fill seamlessly.
Backup goalkeeper Zac MacMath also moved on, while the club also parted ways with Giles Barnes, Enzo Martinez and Yannick Boli.
Rapids' key offseason additions
The Rapids went with MLS experience this offseason, starting with the decision to bring in Kei Kamara to lead the attack. At 34, Kamara isn't one with an eye on the future, but he's a proven goalscorer in this league with four different teams and his ability to play physical atop the field should suit the Rapids nicely. Up top, he'll be partnered with Diego Rubio, who certainly showed flashes in limited minutes with Sporting KC.
Defensively, Keegan Rosenberry is the big add as the former Philadelphia Union fullback could be a cornerstone for years to come. He's had his ups and downs since his sterling rookie season, but he's certainly a starting-quality fullback that has time to put it all together.
In the midfield, Benny Feilhaber and Nicolas Mezquida should provide a much-needed dose of creativity, while veteran Clint Irwin was brought in to back up Tim Howard in goal.
Full Rapids roster entering 2019 season
Goalkeepers: Tim Howard, Clint Irwin, Andre Rawls
Defenders: Kortne Ford, Sam Raben, Keegan Rosenberry, Axel Sjoberg, Tommy Smith, Sam Vines, Danny Wilson, Deklan Wynne
Midfielders: Kellyn Acosta, Cole Bassett, Nana Boateng, Johan Blomberg, Benny Feilhaber, Nicolas Mezquida, Sam Nicholson, Jack Price, Dillon Serna
Forwards: Shkelzen Gashi, Matt Hundley, Niki Jackson, Kei Kamara, Diego Rubio, Andre Shinyashiki
Rapids' projected starting lineup
The Rapids are expected to play in a 4-4-2 diamond, and they have the personnel to make it effective. Up top, you have the likes of Kamara and Rubio, who should provide some sort of answers for a team that simply couldn't score in 2018. Kamara will likely be the more active goalscorer of the bunch with Rubio's role being to create havoc and find gaps between the opposition's backline.
In the midfield, things are a bit less straight-forward, but there are some expected locks. Acosta will almost certainly be one of the shuttlers while Jack Price is set to be the more deep-lying midfielder of the bunch. The question is what to do with the No.10. Mezquida seems the more likely starter given his preseason, while Feilhaber and Gashi can also play in that role. If Feilhaber is moved higher, look for Cole Bassett to join the starters. The young homegrown is highly-regarded by the Rapids and many others in MLS and should be a favorite to earn a starting position before the season is over.
Defensively, Ford will look to take another step after becoming the leader of the backline while the likes of Wilson, Sjoberg and Smith could also start. The big battle is left back, though, with Wynne being the likely starter over 19-year-old defender Sam Vines.