BY RIDGE MAHONEY
That is how Rapids coach Tim Hankinson describes the result of the changes he has wrought in the past few months, particularly the trade yesterday that brings Carlos Valderrama, Scott Garlick and Ritchie Kotschau to Colorado from Tampa Bay.
"We have 14 games to make the playoffs and we had to make changes now," said Hankinson of his 2-8-4 squad that sits last in the Western Division.
"It wasn't working with the group we had. The mix wasn't right. Along with Raul [Diaz Arce] and John Spencer and Robin Fraser and moving [Marcelo Balboa] to midfield, we have the look of a whole new team."
In exchange, the Rapids sent Adin Brown, Scott Vermillion and a first-round draft pick in 2002 to Tampa Bay, which had fired Hankinson last year -- despite a 16-12-4 record -- and hired Alfonso Mondelo.
Tampa Bay then traded Vermillion to D.C. United for Eric Denton in a swap of outside backs. At 3-10-1, the Mutiny is the only MLS team with a worse record than Colorado.
Hankinson's moves reunite him with Valderrama and Diaz Arce. He was coach of the Mutiny in 1999 when MLS former commissioner Doug Logan "reassigned" Valderrama to Tampa Bay from Miami.
Valderrama had reached an impasse with former Fusion coach Ivo Wortmann and Logan stepped in to break up the logjam. In Tampa this season, he'd been suspended twice and was fined by the team for punching teammate Eric Quill in practice.
Valderrama set a single-season assist mark last year with 26 and is the league's all-time assist leader with 95, including six in 12 games this season.
"When Carlos came to us we had lost [four] in a row and with him we won five in a row," said Hankinson. "He's obviously a player you have to build your team around.
"I think he's been frustrated this year in Tampa, but if you have players around him that will move and work for him, he can still make those incredible passes. He sees the doors opening before they open."
Not yet determined is how Valderrama, 39, will react to a radical change in culture, not to mention altitude. "I've spoken to him and I think he's excited about coming here," said Hankinson. "We had some good times in Tampa and I see no reason we can't do the same here."
Still be sorted out are roles for Paul Bravo, Ross Paule, Chris Carrieri and Jason Moore in an attack marshaled by Valderrama. Neathan Gibson, a forward/midfielder signed as a discovery player in preseason, has been waived.
"We've been forced to put John Spencer in a creative role at times and now we can have him doing what he does best, which is scoring goals," said Hankinson of the Scotsman who's scored eight of the Rapids 15 goals this season.
Diaz Arce has scored two goals in two games since being traded to the Rapids by D.C. United. Paule assisted on each Rapids' goal in a 3-3 tie against New England last week and leads the league with nine assists.
After scoring only 12 goals in their first 12 games, the Rapids have scored three apiece in the past two games but have failed to win. They lost 6-3 to Dallas prior to tying New England.
Vermillion will get a chance to play against his former team Saturday when the Rapids visit RFK Stadium to play D.C. United.
Denton and Brown are expected to be on the Mutiny roster tomorrow when Tampa Bay plays at Kansas City.
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