The Colorado Rapids have gone through this makeover process before and the results haven’t been pretty.
MLS Cup champions in 2010, the Rapids slipped down the chute until head coach Gary Smith departed, and have struggled to regain the momentum instilled by Oscar Pareja, who left after two seasons -- including the Rapids’ last playoff appearance in 2013 -- and last year led FC Dallas to the regular-season conference title.
The Rapids finished last at 9-13-10 (37 points), 23 points behind FCD and 14 shy of a playoff spot. They were eighth of nine Western Conference teams in 2014, which means they have finished in front of exactly one team (San Jose) in the past two years. Even Chivas USA edged them out (by a point) in its final season before MLS pulled the plug.
The third season under former U.S. international Pablo Mastroeni obviously requires drastic measures, and Colorado has acquired one of the biggest names -- and largest personalities -- in its history.
“I always like to take the role of the bad guy on the field,” said Jermaine Jones, 34, during a press conference Wednesday that officially introduced him. “Especially if you have a young team, sometimes it’s not a bad weight, but some players maybe can’t take the pressure so much. So I love it, to take that pressure away from players. I love to go in stadiums and people hate me.”
In exchange, the Revolution received Colorado’s natural first-round draft pick in the 2017 MLS SuperDraft and general allocation money.
The man selected by Mastroeni and technical director Paul Bravo to play the villain comes at a reasonable price, though Jones admitted the opportunity to play closer to Los Angeles -- where he owns a home -- and avoid artificial turf for home games weighed in his decision. If he doesn’t age too quickly -- and he’s as about as strong and robust as can be a 34-year-old veteran of Bundesliga battles -- he could be money well spent.
SI.com reported Jones will earn about $550,000 this season, a steep cut from the $3.02 million paid to him in 2015 by New England, which balked at his salary demands yet retained his rights by making an undisclosed offer. According to a source with knowledge of the figures, he will earn a lot less than a Designated Player subsequently signed by the Revs, midfielder Xavier Kouassi, whose salary the source puts at $840,000.
Kouassi suffered a torn ACL in his right knee playing for SC Sion a few days after signing an MLS deal and could miss the entire MLS season. Jones will sit out the first six games due to a suspension he received in the 2015 playoffs yet Bravo expressed confidence that Jones’ fire, skill, and experience are essential elements in the team’s rebuild.
“It’s certainly a very important season for us,” Bravo said in an interview with Denver media. “I certainly understand where Pablo is coming from as a coach in his third year. The team hadn’t performed up to the standard we had set. I have a longer term view, but it’s a very important year to turn the tide on what has been a disappointing 18 months.”
Colorado started the 2016 season last weekend with a disappointing 1-0 loss in San Jose, which the Rapids outshot 18-7 without reward. The team’s offseason DP signing, Shkelzen Gashi, labored through a very quiet 67 minutes and was substituted. Five saves by keeper David Bingham and crucial blocks by Victor Bernardez, Clarence Goodson and Shea Salinas fended off Colorado.
Jones is expected to play in central midfield and could play a similar role to what he did in New England; covering the field box-to-box as a link between a holding midfielder (Sam Cronin) and an attacking mid (Dillon Powers). His arrival in New England sparked a run to the MLS Cup final in 2014, but the effects of age, his exhaustive workrate, and possible national team duty could weigh heavily on him in 2016.If the SI.com figures are accurate, the Rapids aren’t using much allocation money to buy down his salary-budget charge and will have a DP slot available in case the rumored pursuit of U.S. keeper Tim Howard is indeed underway. Gashi and forward Kevin Doyleare the current DPs.
During the press conference, Jones said among the factors he considered in leaving New England pertained to setting. Playing on turf in a facility shared by the NFL Patriots didn’t seem suitable in an era of soccer-specific alternatives
“That’s a point I said before with the stadium,” he said. “It’s always nice when you feel respected, not only me, but the whole team. You know that’s your own stadium and every week it’s home. You go there to prepare for the games and then you go there for the games.
“In Boston, it was completely different. You have the turf field which is tough to play on, but then you have to share the whole stadium with the Patriots, so you don’t really feel at home. That’s a big part of what I want to change and what I am looking forward to, especially now that I’m here in Colorado.”
What he brings to Colorado may not be pretty but it’s the stuff rebuilding teams desperately need.