The Colorado Rapids' new acquisition arrived just in time for the second phase of preseason training, yet he's not the only face of recent vintage.
Two weeks of crunching through snow-encrusted sessions ended Saturday, a day after midfielder Christian Gomez posed for the obligatory pictures holding his new club colors. When the team resumes training in Florida today, there will be other newcomers both on and off the field.
Former Rapids defender Nat Borchers has been released by Norwegian club Odd Grenland and his former club would have first crack at retaining him. Coach Fernando Clavijo plans on using Jose Burciaga Jr., acquired via trade from Kansas City, at left back. Former Clemson defender Chase Hilgenbrinck, who played in Chile after being passed over in the 2004 MLS SuperDraft, is also on board.
"Chase will use his speed and experience to help us continue to bolster our defense that gave up the third fewest goals in the league this past season," said Clavijo.
Former U.S. keeper Jurgen Sommer is the Rapids director of soccer and Gary Smith has been added as an assistant coach. In addition to working with Clavijo and first assistant coach John Murphy, Smith is responsible for instituting the Arsenal Center of Excellence, a joint venture by the English Premier League club and the Rapids. He coached Watford's reserve team and was a staff member on several English teams.
After finishing their stint in Florida with a match against Rocky Mountain Cup rivals Real Salt Lake Feb. 22, the Rapids will train 10 days in London at the Arsenal facilities. They'll also visit Mississippi in late March to play the Fire.
Regardless of other changes, Clavijo is staking a lot on Gomez. Colorado gave up its first-round 2009 SuperDraft pick and the club's Designated Player slot for either two or three years, depending on the source of the information. Officially, "future considerations" are now owned by D.C. United. Supposedly, Toronto offered D.C. its DP slot, and Colorado either had to match it or lose the trade.
In effect, Gomez is the club's designated player and is costing it accordingly; his salary plus allocation money comes mighty close to the same $400,000 cap hit such a player would inflict. And while Clavijo has always praised the influence of Latin players in MLS, he hasn't had much success with a few of those he's brought recently to Colorado.
Diego Serna and Jose Cancela made the final stops of their league careers in Colorado, and last year's signing, Mexican striker Daniel Osorno, arrived out of shape, played just 55 minutes, and then "retired," though he's back playing in Mexico with Dorados.
If Gomez is anything close to what he showed in D.C., the Rapids' anemic attack - 29 goals in 30 games last year, only expansion Toronto scored fewer - has to improve, perhaps significantly. Streaky scorers abound on the Rapids roster - Jovan Kirovski, Herculez Gomez, Nicolas Hernandez - so a steady supply of quality service could brighten one of the club's dark spots.
Clavijo expects the new Gomez to play up front as a second forward, which probably means one or two members of a forward brigade that also includes Conor Casey can't be retained. He's lined up a Brazilian defensive midfielder - name not yet known - to play alongside Pablo Mastroeni in central midfield, and the flanks are more or less secure with Terry Cooke on the right and Colin Clark on the left. Midfielder Ciaran O'Brien was taken with the No. 5 overall draft pick and as a Generation Adidas player will have plenty of time to settle in.
Clavijo, though, won't have that luxury. There are some high points during Clavijo's tenure - two straight playoff eliminations of Dallas (2005 and 2006), the unearthing of Senegalese goalkeeper Bouna Coundoul, an excellent first season for Hernandez - yet his contract expires this year.
Gomez's contract is guaranteed through 2009; his coach will have to earn such security.
MLS Preseason Previews
Jan. 28 -- Real Salt Lake
Jan. 29 -- D.C. United
Jan. 30 -- New England
Jan. 31 -- Columbus
Feb. 1 -- FC Dallas
Feb. 5 -- Chicago
Feb. 6 -- Kansas City
Feb. 7 -- Chivas USA
Feb. 8 -- New York