Commerce City, CO (Sports Network) - Two seasons after hoisting the MLS Cup in 2010, the Colorado Rapids find themselves in a completely different position heading into this season.
The Rapids entered a transitional period in 2012 with new manager Oscar Pareja patrolling the touchline and new technical director Paul Bravo in the front office, but many believed the team still had enough quality to reach the postseason.
Through the first four months of the 2012 campaign, the Rapids got off to a less-than-stellar 6-8-1 start. They closed out the month of June with a comfortable 3-0 win over the Portland Timbers and looked to have turned a corner.
But then the bottom fell out.
Colorado endured a dismal 0-6-0 July which essentially doomed its chances of reaching the playoffs. The Rapids finished the season by dropping three of their final four league matches and ended with an 11-19-4 mark, good for 37 points and seventh place in the Western Conference.
After such a poor 2012, the Rapids turned a new leaf leading into this term by shedding many of the players that were key pieces to the team's MLS Cup run of 2010.
Gone are forwards Conor Casey and Omar Cummings, as well as midfielder Jeff Larentowicz. Casey spent six seasons in the Mile High city and leaves as the team's all-time leading goal scorer with 50 tallies. However, the 31-year- old suffered an Achilles injury in 2011 and his contract was declined following last season, allowing the Philadelphia Union to select him in stage two of the MLS re-entry draft.
Cummings was shipped to the Houston Dynamo in exchange for midfielder Nathan Sturgis and Larentowicz was moved to the Chicago Fire.
With both of the team's marquee strikers out of town, Pareja and Bravo pulled off a trade with the Los Angeles Galaxy for mercurial forward Edson Buddle.
Buddle had a huge year for the Galaxy in 2010, putting up 17 goals in 25 starts before a stint in Germany in 2011. He came back to the Galaxy last season but scored just three times in 19 games after returning from June knee surgery.
Colorado will need Buddle to return to his 2010 form if the club wants to reach the postseason this year.
Playing alongside Buddle in the 4-3-3 formation will likely be Tony Cascio and newcomer Atiba Harris, who arrived via a trade from the Vancouver Whitecaps.
Cascio appeared in 29 games last season and scored three goals to go with three assists, while Harris will need to have a bounce-back season after registering zero goals in seven appearances with Vancouver.
Captain Pablo Mastroeni anchors a three-man midfield along with Hendry Thomas and Kamani Hill.
The 36-year-old Mastroeni missed 32 of 34 games last season due to concussion symptoms, but announced in December that he would be returning to the club for 2013, supplying the Rapids with some veteran leadership.
"I was ready to retire probably in June or July of last year," Mastroeni said. "[But] buying that time allowed me to kind of re-evaluate my situation. The light bulb clicked, and it was like, 'I can really do this again. And not only can I do this again, but I want to do this again.'"
Colorado's backline has also endured its share of turnover ahead of the new campaign as Tyrone Marshall and Tyson Wahl both had their options declined at the end of 2012.
Drew Moor remains in the fold to anchor a defense which finished with a minus-6 goal differential last season. Moor started all 34 of Colorado's matches last campaign, while fellow defender Marvell Wynne started 28 games.
Joining Moor and Wynne in defense will likely be Diego Calderon and Anthony Wallace, while Matt Pickens remains solid between the pipes for the Rapids.
Colorado will need Buddle to be healthy and return to his 2010 form, and the defense will have to be improved, but Colorado can challenge for a playoff spot if things go well for Pareja's squad.
2012 IN REVIEW: Colorado hovered around the .500 mark for the first four months of the season before the bottom fell out and the club lost six straight games in July. The Rapids finished with 19 losses and in seventh place in the Western Conference with 37 points.
ACQUISITIONS: Atiba Harris (M/F), Edson Buddle (F), Nathan Sturgis (M), Diego Calderon (D), Kevin Harbottle (F), DeShorn Brown (D), Dillon Powers (M), Dillon Serna (M), Nick LaBrocca (M).
LOSSES: Conor Casey (F), Omar Cummings (F), Jeff Larentowicz (M), Tyrone Marshall (D), Tyson Wahl (D), Hunter Freeman (D).
OUTLOOK: With such a large influx of new players, it is a bit difficult to predict where Colorado will finish. Buddle needs to remain healthy and produce numbers closer to his 2010 season rather than 2012 if the Rapids are to make the playoffs. The defensive effort will also need to be better, but if Pareja can get his new troops to play together, the playoffs are a possibility for the new-look Rapids.