MLS 2018: Rapids draw tough openers against Toronto FC

For the Rapids, what happens starting in early March is all that really matters, but first up there are a pair of games in February that would intimidate most teams in MLS.

Head coach Anthony Hudson, who took the job in late November after leading New Zealand to the final round of 2018 World Cup qualification, starts out with a two-game series against defending MLS Cup champion Toronto FC in the Concacaf Champions League. Colorado hosts the first leg Tuesday; the second match is March 27.

The roster has taken on a British feel with changes invoked by Hudson -- the Seattle native is the league’s youngest head coach at 36 -- although one of his signings is U.S. international defender Edgar Castillo, who is on loan from Monterrey. Among the newcomers are centerback Danny Wilson (Scotland) and midfielder Jack Price (England). One of Hudson’s key members of the New Zealand squad, Tommy Smith, will anchor central defense alongside Wilson.

General manager Padraig Smith says of Wilson, “Danny’s signing is an important addition to our back line. In addition to his experience and leadership, Danny is in the prime of his career, and will be one of the best passing center backs in the league. We look forward to welcoming him to Colorado.”

This is well and truly Smith’s team now. After a surprisingly successful 2016 season during which Colorado finished second in the Western Conference as well as the overall standings, former technical director Paul Bravo resigned after a dispute with Smith and the front office. (Colorado got into the 2017-18 CCL because Supporters' Shield winner FC Dallas also won the U.S. Open Cup.)

Last year, Smith fired head coach Pablo Mastroeni as the Rapids lurched toward a 10th-place finish. They leaked 51 goals despite the presence of U.S. international keeper Tim Howard and solid backup Zac MacMath. The 2016 team allowed the fewest goals in MLS (32).

To bolster a sputtering attack that managed only 31 goals, Colorado traded for ex-Galaxy striker Jack McBean and signed 30-year-old Swedish midfielder Johan Blomberg, who has scored 28 goals and recorded 39 assists in his pro career while playing for several Swedish clubs. Shkelzen Gashi and Stefan Aigner didn’t get the job done last season.
“We have had an eye on Johan for quite some time and he is someone who we believe will add an extra creative dimension to our team,” said Smith. “Johan fits into the way we want to play and we’re confident he will improve our team -- especially on the attacking side. He is a versatile, forward-thinking player who possesses the creativity and game intelligence to make an impact in this league.”

Colorado Rapids:
IN: Johan Blomberg (AIK Stockholm/SWE, free), Kip Colvey (San Jose Earthquakes, Waiver Draft), Jack McBean (LA Galaxy, trade), Mike Grella (NY Red Bulls, Re-Entry Draft, Stage 1), Deklan Wynne (Vancouver Whitecaps, trade), Edgar Castillo (Monterrey/MEX, loan), Jack Price (Wolves/ENG, transfer), Tommy Smith (Ipswich Town, transfer), Danny Wilson (Rangers/SCO, free), Andrew Dykstra (Sporting KC, trade).
John Berner, Dennis Castillo, Mekeil Williams, Joshua Gatt, Mohammed Saeid (Lyngby/DEN, free), Alan Gordon, Bobby Burling, Mike Grella (Columbus Crew, trade), Luis Gil (Queretaro/MEX, loan expired), Mike da Fonte (Phoenix Rising, loan).
2018 Roster:
Andrew Dykstra, Tim Howard, Zac MacMath.
Defenders: Edgar Castillo, Kip Colvey, Kortne Ford, Eric Miller, Axel Sjoberg, Tommy Smith, Jared Watts, Danny Wilson, Deklan Wynne.
Midfielders: Micheal Azira, Johan Blomberg, Nana Boateng, Marlon Hairston, Sam Hamilton, Ricardo Perez, Jack Price, Dillon Serna.
Forwards: Stefan Aigner, Dominique Badji, Caleb Calvert, Shkelzen Gashi, Jack McBean.

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