As news broke on Sunday that Everton and USMNT all-time great Tim Howard is set to join the Colorado Rapids in the summer, the MLS world reacted in a variety of ways. Some were disappointed to learn that another great aging player will be heading back to our shores, while others were thrilled that the Rapids have added a top class goalkeeper. Frankly, I was thrilled to learn that an American great is coming home to finish his career.
In addition to that, I was struck by the knowledge that this is a terrific signing for Colorado. There is something about these Rapids. Although it is early in the season, they’re quite an exciting side. They’ve got a fun, youthful spine to the team, and have quality across the board. Although they no longer have Marcelo Sarvas, in Sam Cronin, Dillon Powers, Dillon Serna and Zach Pfeffer they’ve got a strong midfield.
Howard, Jermaine Jones Could Be Crucial
That doesn’t even start to consider the other big addition not named Tim Howard: Jermaine Jones. Although currently forced to serve out his suspension which carried over from last season’s MLS Cup Playoffs, Jones has more international experience than just about any midfielder in this league not named Michael Bradley or Steven Gerrard. He brings something which no other player in the league does.
Strength Up Top As Well
In addition to the bevy of quality in the center of the park, Colorado boast two classy players up at the front end of the pitch. Marco Pappa, who joined this offseason, and Kevin Doyle, a midseason acquisition last term, are one of the strongest forward pairings in the league. Although Pappa can be erratic, he has magic in his boots. The former Seattle Sounders attacker is one of the most exciting players in the league. His footwork is something to marvel at, and he can pick out a pass better than most players in this hemisphere. Meanwhile, Doyle is a bona fide international striker, and is a good finisher in front of goal.
Although he has recently spent time in the nether reaches of English football, Doyle has spent time in the Premier League and is in with a shot of being in the Ireland squad at this summer’s European Championships. He knows what it takes to win, like a number of other players in this squad.
For the last several seasons, Colorado have felt like bottom feeders in Major League Soccer. Most teams have considered match-ups against the Burgundy and Blue guaranteed points, and have looked past them. Yet, even though we are still in the early stages of the 2016 MLS season, there is a different feel about this Rapids squad.
Pappa's Late Winner
Four points from their first three matches is a decent return to start the season, and the late, great winner from Pappa against the LA Galaxy on March 12th felt like a symbolic result. Last season’s Rapids squad probably didn’t have the mentality it would have taken to keep going on to find a late winner, and may have even contrived to concede late on.
Uncertainty In Goal
On Sunday, they put in a professional performance on the road, and will feel unlucky not to have emerged from RFK Stadium with all three points. In fact, many Rapids fans will say that goalkeeper Zac MacMath was the reason why they drew 1-1 with DC United over the weekend. MacMath, over the course of his career, has struggled with control over the penalty area. Tim Howard, on the other hand, has not. Is Howard the missing piece in this Colorado Rapids jigsaw puzzle?
The answer: maybe. The USMNT all-time great has put in countless show-stealing performances, and knows what it takes to win. He has made hundreds of appearances at the highest level for Manchester United, Everton and the United States, winning the FA Cup with United and had quite probably the single greatest performance from a goalkeeper in a World Cup against Belgium in the Round of 16 in Brazil.
Yet, Howard has struggled this season. He has found it difficult to remain the number one at Goodison Park over the last couple of years, and was finally beaten out by Joel for the top spot. How will that affect his confidence level coming back to MLS for the first time in over a decade? Having played here in the past, will he have the same struggles getting re-acclimated as other European transplants, or will he be the missing piece for Colorado?
I think that it’s far more likely he’ll be the second, especially since he should be a significant upgrade on MacMath. It is nigh impossible to predict an eventual MLS Cup winner, but there is something about this Colorado side which makes me think they’re headed for a playoff berth. The front office’s stated goal is to host a playoff game; with the squad that they’ve assembled, that seems not only doable, but likely. Only time will tell if it does indeed come to pass.