Major League Soccer

Colorado Rapids 2022 MLS season preview: Tactics, predicted XI, predictions

Chris Smith
The Rapids topped the Western Conference against the odds in 2021.
The Rapids topped the Western Conference against the odds in 2021. /

After topping the Western Conference in 2021, the Colorado Rapids will be looking to defy the odds again this time around.

Without the star names, big stadiums, or big spending of other MLS clubs, Robin Fraser used teamwork and togetherness to inspire his side to unimaginable heights. But with Concacaf Champions League commitments to juggle this season others continuing to spend big, it'll be tough for them to repeat the feat.

So, here's everything you need to know about the Colorado Rapids ahead of the new MLS season.

How did Colorado Rapids perform in 2021?

As mentioned, the Rapids topped the Western Conference last season. And they did so despite being the lowest-spending team in MLS, with just one Designated Player, Younes Namli, who wasn't even at Dick's Sporting Goods Park on a permanent basis.

Even if they did crash out of the MLS Cup Playoffs at the first hurdle - at home to the Portland Timbers in the first Thanksgiving game in MLS history - Colorado deserve huge credit for defying the odds and showing money isn't everything.

Fraser's side were outscored by their three closest rivals in the West, Portland Timbers, Sporting KC and Seattle Sounders, but only the latter conceded fewer goals. It was this defensive resilience that carried the Rapids through and may do so again in 2022.

Colorado Rapids transfer activity

Transfers in

  • Max Alves (from Flamengo, $750k)
  • Aboubacar Keita (from Columbus Crew, $300k)
  • Bryan Acosta (from FC Dallas, free transfer)
  • Roberto Molina (SuperDraft)
  • Anthony Markanich (SuperDraft)
  • Mohamed Omar (SuperDraft)
  • Auston Trusty (from Arsenal, loan)

Transfers out

  • Auston Trusty (to Arsenal, undisc.)
  • Kellyn Acosta (to LAFC, $1.1m)
  • Dominique Badji (to FC Cincinnati, free transfer)
  • Kortne Ford (to Sporting KC, free transfer)
  • Mohamed Omar (to HFX Wanderers, free transfer)
  • Cole Bassett (to Feyenoord, loan)
  • Andre Rawls (released)
  • Jeremy Kelly (released)
  • Will Vint (released)

Robin Fraser: Tactics and style of play

Robin Fraser mostly stuck with a 3-5-2 system last season. Solid, no-nonsense center-backs allow the wing-backs to drive forward and provide width. There's industry and quality through the middle, and fluidity and mobility up top. Without any huge off-season additions yet, it's hard to see that changing this season.

No Colorado player scored more than eight MLS goals during the regular season. Instead of building around a talismanic striker, the Rapids tend to soak up pressure and cut you open in transition, make the most of set pieces, or use teamwork and cohesion to create gaps for each other. They won't put a sledgehammer through your backline like the New England Revolution. Rather, they'll be in and out through the back door before you even realize there's a problem.

"I feel like we are a team that can hurt teams in transition. We have good pace and we have guys who make good decisions on the run," Fraser told 90min of the Rapids' style of play in September.

He added: "I think we can hurt teams at set attack as well and I think our positional play is interesting. When our positional play is good, and we make good decisions, then I think we can really hurt teams in possession as well. That's part of the good thing about us - at set attack we can hurt teams and we can be lethal on counter-attack. But we can still get better at both."

In the same interview, Fraser did express an interest in making the Rapids better at holding onto the ball, so keep an eye on the fluidity and precision of their passing over the first few weeks of 2022.

Colorado Rapids predicted XI (3-5-2): Yarbrough; Wilson, Abubakar, Trusty; Rosenberry, Kaye, Price, Max, Esteves; Barrios, Shinyashiki.

Who are Colorado Rapids' key players?

Jack Price

Pretty much every player on the Rapids' roster is underrated, but Jack Price most of all. The English midfielder was behind only Djordje Mihailovic (14) and Carles Gil (13) throughout MLS for primary assists during the 2021 regular season (12), with his set-piece delivery an important avenue of attack for Colorado.

Price is also a vital defensive piece in front of the Rapids backline and is often the one progressing the ball from front to back. He's an exemplary captain and was a very harsh omission from the MLS Best XI last year.

Mark-Anthony Kaye

Colorado were already good to start 2021, but the acquisition of Mark-Anthony Kaye from LAFC for $1m in July made them serious contenders. Often fielded as an industrious, deep-lying player in the Black and Gold's midfield, Fraser has turned Kaye into more of a creative piece in Denver.

The Canada international has operated behind the central striker where he can slice open opposing defenses with his passing, runs in behind, or use his existing defensive acumen to help in the press.

With Max Alves joining from Flamengo, expect Kaye to play a slightly more withdrawn role this year, but he'll still be huge at both ends and his versatility alone makes him invaluable to such a small roster.

Michael Barrios

The decision to let Michael Barrios leave for, in essence, no cash was one of the many strange and costly ones made by FC Dallas last off-season. But what was Dallas' loss was absolutely Colorado's gain.

The Colombian forward was the Rapids' top scorer in 2021 with eight goals and second only to Price in assists (5). His pace and trickery have been vital to facilitating Fraser's counter-attacking style and with Colorado still not bringing in a DP forward yet (they should sign two), his role remains vital.

Colorado Rapids 2022 season prediction

Predicting the outcome of 2022 for the Rapids is tough because you feel they still have so much work to do in the transfer market over the next month or so.

As it stands, with Kellyn Acosta leaving for LAFC, Cole Bassett joining Feyenoord, and Dom Badji going to FC Cincinnati for free, you have to say they're worse on paper.

Robin Fraser is a brilliant coach and tactician and has a habit of ripping up the on-paper standings, though, so while the Rapids won't top the West, they won't plummet too far.

Prediction: 6th in the Western Conference