Mar 10, 2018; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Revolution forward Cristian Penilla (70) and Colorado Rapids midfielder Marlon Hairston (94) battle for the ball during the first half at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – To say the Colorado Rapids were “defensive minded” the past four seasons under coach Pablo Mastroeni would be an understatement. In the last four seasons, the club averaged 1.07 goals per game – a league worst during that span.
But with the hire of new head coach Anthony Hudson, the Rapids are banking on improvement both on the scoresheet and in the standings. So far, it’s still a work in progress with the Rapids at the bottom of the league with an average of 12 touches in the box (in one game played thus far), but Hudson is optimistic based on what he’s seen from his new squad thus far.
“For the first game, away from home and having eight players that have never played an MLS game, I thought it was a performance deserving of at least a point,” Hudson said of his team’s season-opening loss to New England. “We did enough. We looked organized.”
Hudson said game management by the players late in the match and passing are areas needing improvement, but he remained optimistic about the offense — particularly rookie Niki Jackson, who scored in his debut.
“Every day when we were making decisions I kept saying, ‘We can’t let him go. He’s got something,’” Hudson said of the 2018 fourth-round draft pick. “Every week he shows us more and we really believe in him. He’s a player with work and development and understanding [in] his role, he can be a really dangerous player.”
Jackson exudes a confidence not often seen in a first-year player, let alone one taken deep in the draft.
“As a forward, when you’re coming into a new team, that first goal is always the most important,” Jackson told Pro Soccer USA. “For me, there’s no better way to start my professional career than netting a goal in the first game. It was a great start for me and a confidence booster.”
Paired with fellow fourth-rounder Dominique Badji, who tallied a team-high nine goals last season, the duo could provide a lethal combo in Colorado’s attack this season. Playing in Hudson’s base 5-3-2 formation, Badji is just happy to have someone next to him to bear the offensive burden, whether it be Jackson, Jack McBean or one of the team’s recently signed strikers: Englishman Joe Mason or French-Ivorian Yannick Boli.
“Playing with someone else it will be a little bit more about them holding up the ball and me coming in from behind as opposed to having to do both jobs,” Badji explained. “That’s somebody else that can create space and pull the defense away so it’s great to have somebody else up there.”
With the recent additions of Mason and Boli, Hudson appeared both enthusiastic and relieved that the final pieces of his roster were coming into place.
Explained Hudson, “The whole of the offseason was about getting things right in the midfield and with a couple of wingbacks. The hardest part is always to bring the strikers in. I think the most important thing is we now have got everyone in. [Boli] is more of the No 9. and [Mason] is more off the No. 9 or 10. But both are going to need to acclimatize to moving here and the altitude. There’s going to be a period of adjustment but they’re really going to add to this team. They both have different qualities but are going to add how we want to play.”
The new additions give Hudson a manager’s favorite problem: the quandary of choice. For the players, it will mean a fight for playing time. Nevertheless, morale remains high early in the season for Colorado’s stable of strikers.
“It’s going to be good for the competition,” said Badji. “[Mason and Boli] are guys have experience and experience playing around the world. At the end of the day you want the best players out there and it’s going to fuel and drive all of us to want to get on the field. Nothing is given so we’re going to keep our heads down and whoever deserves a spot will get it.”
Rapids fans will get their first in-person look at the revamped attack this Saturday when Colorado hosts Sporting Kansas City (7 p.m. MST) at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park.