'15 Season Preview: Rapids aim to be more defensive in 2015

(SportsNetwork.com) - If the Colorado Rapids are into making New Year's resolutions for 2015, they undoubtedly would have to put improving their defense at the top of that list.

The Rapids gave up an MLS-high 62 goals in 34 games last season, and over the final few months of the campaign, they were particularly bad, yielding at least four goals in a game five times in their final 11 matches.

That defensive futility was a big reason why the Rapids finished eighth in the nine-team Western Conference last season, 18 points out of a playoff spot.

If the Rapids want to have any chance at contending for a postseason berth this year, head coach Pablo Mastreoni knows his team has to become stronger not only along the back line, but also in the goalkeeping department.

To that end Mastreoni acquired goalkeeper Zac MacMath from the Philadelphia Union on a season-long loan to compete with incumbent starter Clint Irwin and John Berner following the departure of Joe Nasco.

The Rapids got some downright terrible displays in goal last season that cost the team goals and points in the standings, and Mastreoni is pleased to have better options between the posts this season.

"Signing MacMath was about building depth in a position where I felt we could use it," said Mastreoni. "Zac has experience and he is coming off his best year so he'll have a lot of confidence.

"But Clint Irwin is a great young keeper, Berner too. The more competitive we make this position, the better these guys will become."

Irwin started 25 of Colorado's 34 games in the league last season with mixed results, while the 23-year-old MacMath is coming off a strong season with the Union that saw him start 29 games and keep five clean sheets.

The back line is another area that could use some improvement from last season, but the club will have to do without two of its best defenders following the departures of Marvell Wynne and Chris Klute.

Mastreoni is left to rely on Drew Moor, Shane O'Neill and Marc Burch in defense, while Michael Harrington was added in a trade from the Portland Timbers in December.

Also in the mix in defense is the club's first-round pick in the 2015 MLS SuperDraft, 6-foot-7 central defender Axel Sjoberg.

Last season's midfield was led by Nick LaBrocca as well as young talents Dillon Powers and Dillon Serna. However, there will be increased competition this year with the additions of MLS veterans Marcelo Sarvas and Sam Cronin as well as young Argentines Lucas Pittinari and Juan Ramirez.

The performance of the 24-year-old Powers, in particular, stood out as he tallied five goals and a team-high eight assists to establish himself as one of the top young talents in MLS.

He should have a bit more help this year with the arrivals of Sarvas and Cronin, who both know their way around MLS, while Pittinari and Ramirez are both young talents who Mastreoni will hope can develop quickly.

Deshorn Brown enjoyed a strong campaign last season for the Rapids as he led the club with 10 goals, and the 24-year-old will hope to take another step in his development by building on that performance this season.

Veteran Vicente Sanchez, 35, provided six goals alongside Brown, while the club will hope for improved production from Gabriel Torres, who managed just three goals in 23 appearances.

ADDITIONS: Michael Harrington (D), Bobby Burling (D), Zac MacMath (GK), Marcelo Sarvas (M), Sam Cronin (M), Lucas Pittinari (M), Juan Ramirez (M).

LOSSES: Brian Mullan (M), Edson Buddle (F), Thomas Piermayr (D), Tony Cascio (M), Danny Mwanga (F), Chris Klute (D).

OUTLOOK: After losing just once in their first six games to start last season, the Rapids fell off and begin their descent toward the bottom of the Western Conference due in large part to their poor defensive record. However, Mastreoni will hope the combination of MacMath and Irwin can provide a bit more stability in that area, with improved play coming from the defenders in front of the goalkeeper. The addition of Sarvas should pay immediate dividends in midfield as he is a nice addition alongside the talented Powers and steady LaBrocca. If both Powers and Brown are able to take another step forward, the Rapids will be a more dangerous team going forward, but it likely won't be enough to get the side into the postseason in a tough Western Conference.