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Smart Transfers: Colorado Rapids

As the winter transfer window has drawn to a close, we will use Smarterscout’s advanced metrics and league benchmarking to assess the transfer business of selected teams that caught our eye.


After finishing at the very bottom of the Western Conference last year, the Colorado Rapids had their work cut out over the winter transfer window. New head coach Chris Armas’ arrival was announced well before the turn of the year, so the club had ample time to plan their squad building in a manner that incorporated players the new coaching staff would like.

On paper, at least, the Rapids have done a pretty good job of injecting serious quality into their squad. They have recruited American players from around Europe and picked off a few key players from direct rivals in Major League Soccer. Their low league finish also enabled them to select some of the top draft picks, though those players will likely be ones for the future rather than helping turn their fortunes around immediately. So, we will focus on their senior signings in this piece.

Đorđe Mihailović (from AZ)

USMNT international Đorđe Mihailović’s time in Europe has proven to be quite short-lived, as he has sealed a return to Major League Soccer just a year after leaving Montréal for Alkmaar.

He saw little game time with just 800 minutes played over the course of the year, so it is unsurprising to see the 25-year-old midfielder leave so soon. In his last couple of seasons in MLS, Mihailović showed good well-roundedness as an attacking midfielder, providing a good balance of ball retention, attacking output and defensive support.

He has been a regular starter in the Rapids’ midfield in the early weeks of the season, so as just a homegrown player Mihailović seems a good signing.

Sam Vines (from Royal Antwerp)

In defense, the Colorado Rapids have brought in Sam Vines from Royal Antwerp.

Our model is not so keen on this move, as the young left-back’s work in Belgium over the last couple of seasons was subpar even for MLS level. The defensive side of his game is the bigger factor behind this, so that is not a good sign for what was one of the league’s worst defenses last term.

On the plus side, our model found his link-up passing to be quite good, so Vines certainly has the potential to help improve the Rapids’ possession-play. He also contributes to the team’s homegrown quota and U22 initiative slots.

Zack Steffen (from Manchester City)

Perhaps the biggest signing of the window for the Colorado Rapids has to be Zack Steffen, who is returning to MLS after a few years in Europe at Manchester City and on loan to a few other clubs.

Our model does not think he will be among the best shot-stoppers in the league, though, as his saving ratings place him well below the average MLS standard: 

Steffen’s strength lies in ball-playing, though, as he offers very good retention and composure as well as handy passing. With that in miind, our model thinks he can still be an above-average goalkeeper in MLS.

Lamine Diack (on loan from Nantes)

Lamine Diack was the last of the Colorado Rapids’ signings from overseas. He has joined them on loan from Nantes, though the deal does have an option to buy.

The 23-year-old midfielder has had a very interesting career trajectory so far. A youth product of the Oslo FA academy in Senegal, his first professional contract took him to Macedonia to play for Shkupi. In 2021, he moved to Tuzlaspor in Türkiye’s second division. After just one season, he was picked up by top-flight club Ankaragücü.

In his only full season in the Süper Lig, Diack showed exciting signs of potential as far as the important traits for a defensive midfielder are concerned – particularly out of possession – but his overall consistency and quality could still use some work.

He did well enough to earn a move to Ligue 1 side Nantes on loan with an obligation to buy ahead of this season, but he only ended up making one appearance for them. They had to complete the transfer in the winter window, but then promptly moved him on to Colorado where his long-term future may well lie.

Jasper Löffelsend (from Real Salt Lake)

A more experienced midfield that the Colorado Rapids have signed is Jasper Löffelsend.

His career path has not been a common one either as he spent most of his younger professional days in the lower tiers of German football before moving to the United States of America in 2020, initially attending the University of Pittsburgh. After a couple of years studying and playing for the Pittsburg Panthers (the university’s college soccer team), he registered for the 2022 MLS SuperDraft.

Real Salt Lake were the club that picked him, and he played the last two seasons for them. Initially, he started as a deeper midfielder, but last year he spent more time in a slightly more advanced role.

In both positions, Löffelsend consistently showed a decent level of attacking output, defensive quality and quantity, and ball retention. Clearly, he is a quite well-rounded midfielder who can take up a box-to-box role, so he seems a smart trade for the Rapids.

Omir Fernandez (from New York Red Bulls)

Omir Fernandez, on the other hand, seems a slightly riskier signing as he comes across from the New York Red Bulls on a free transfer after his contract expired there.

He was operating at a decent level up till 2022, but dropped off fairly significantly last term, particularly in terms of attacking output, which in turn was caused by a drop-off in dribbling quality and receiving in the box.

At just 25 years old, Fernandez still has a lot of time ahead of him so he could yet bounce back and rediscover some more consistent quality.

Verdict

The Colorado Rapids’ transfer window is a tad difficult to assess.

They clearly recognized the need for significant change after last season’s disappointment. On the surface level, bringing in USMNT internationals from Europe such as Mihailović, Vines and Steffen seems a step in the right direction, but our model’s analysis suggests that their current level might not be enough to take the league by storm.

Relative to expectations, the likes of Diack, Löffelsend and Fernandez might in fact turn out to be better signings. The latter two have a good deal of MLS experience under their belt, while Diack seems a promising young talent.

On the whole, though, these transfers alone do not seem enough to sufficiently transform a team that finished at the bottom of the ladder in the Western Conference. Of course, changes to the coaching staff and player roles/development within the squad are among various other factors that could change the Rapids’ fate, but as the window slams shut, they might be left feeling they could have done a little bit better.

 

By Neel Shelat

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