Latest News

Storylines | Fresh Starts All Around


Every year, fans hope to see their favorite club make some big signings. That’s what transfer windows are for, and every team has room to be improved, right? For this weekend’s opponents, a refresh was certainly needed during the offseason, and they turned to the transfer market to reverse their fortunes.

Saved from rock bottom by an even worse Toronto FC team, the Colorado Rapids finished 2023 with the second-lowest point total in the league (27). They tied with the Reds for the fewest goals scored with 26 and suffered the second-worst goal difference in the entire league (-28). Needless to say, the Rapids faithful weren’t pleased with the results, and they let their frustrations be known to team ownership. It appears that ownership listened, and they used a unique strategy to turn things around.

First, they brought in Chris Armas to take over as head coach. The former New York Red Bulls manager is fresh off of getting some work experience across the pond, working as an assistant coach at both Manchester United and Leeds United in England. He was briefly a co-interim manager at Leeds, but that’s the closest he got to a gig of his own during his British adventure. Armas is widely regarded as a skilled coach and a good man—not a bad choice to lead a project by any means.

With their new leader in place, it was time to make some roster changes, and boy, were they busy.

In total, Colorado saw 15 players leave the club this offseason, whether through loans ending or beginning, transfers, trades, retirement, or contract expiration. In turn, they added 15 to the fold via the SuperDraft and other transfer methods, reshaping the entire team in one fell swoop. Amid this slew of offseason signings, the Rapids brought in three faces that are plenty familiar to Major League Soccer and USMNT fans alike. Let’s meet these familiar gentlemen (again)!

Djordje Mihailovic

25-year-old midfielder/winger Djordje Mihailovic is a unique player. His vision and technical ability would be enough to set anyone apart, but his speed and penchant for unselfish play make him a truly dangerous man on the pitch.

Mihailovic began his career with his boyhood club, the Chicago Fire, in 2017. Though he was a standout player in the Windy City, he ended up leaving for Montreal in 2021, where his career really took off. He added goals and assists from wide areas, as well as in a more central attacking midfield role. After setting a new single-season assist record for Montreal (16), helping the team win the 2021 Canadian Championship, and pushing them to the 2022 Concacaf Champions League quarterfinals, Djordje was ready for a move to Europe when AZ Alkmaar came calling in 2023.

Critics will say that things didn’t quite work out for Mihailovic in the Dutch Eredivisie, but that’s a bit reductive. He managed two goals and two assists in 36 appearances for the club before opting to return home as a Designated Player, and despite racking up 11 appearances for the USMNT since 2019, it feels like this talented player has something to prove once again. In an increasingly competitive player pool, he’ll be hoping that his move to Colorado gives him the platform to earn a regular spot on the national team.

Sam Vines

For the 24-year-old Colorado Springs native, this is a true homecoming. Vines grew up playing in the Rapids academy, signed as a Homegrown Player in 2018, and played 53 matches for his home club after breaking into the team in 2019. He’s Rapids born and bred.

A good fullback really stands out in this league, and that’s exactly what Vines did in his first spell in MLS. After demonstrating his skill at such a young age, he made his move to Europe in 2021, joining Royal Antwerp of the Jupiler Pro League, the first division of Belgian soccer. He’d get the chance to earn minutes in the Europa League and Champions League qualifiers, and he was part of Antwerp’s three-trophy haul in 2023.

After 58 appearances across all competitions, Vines had added a pair of goals and assists, and though he’d acquitted himself well, he was evidently ready to come home. He’s already made nine appearances for the USMNT since 2020, and with the prime of his career still very much ahead of him, he’ll likewise be hoping that this move can bring him back to his best.

Zack Steffen

This may be the most well-known name on this little list, and deservedly so. The 29-year-old goalkeeper has made 29 appearances for the USMNT and spent time with the mighty Manchester City of the English Premier League.

This skilled shot stopper started his professional career with SC Freiburg’s second team in Germany before returning to the States to suit up for the Columbus Crew. A loan to the Pittsburgh Riverhounds in 2016 helped him prove his worth, and he took over as the starter in Ohio’s capital until City Football Group snapped him up in 2019.

From there, it was a bit of a tough road for Steffen. He struggled to assert himself in a talented locker room, ultimately spending a year on loan with Fortuna Düsseldorf in Germany. Upon returning to City, he ended up making a total of 21 appearances in four seasons for his parent club before ending his time in England with one last loan spell with Middlesbrough.

Now, with a few UEFA Champions League and English Premier League minutes under his belt, Steffen returns to the league where he made his name. With the transfer of William Yarbrough to San Jose, Steffen is the clear number one option in net for the Rapids, and with some consistent minutes and trust, he’ll be looking to return to his best form once again.

With Mihailovic and Vines under contract through 2027, the Rapids are banking on keeping these guys for the prime of their careers. Steffen is likewise under contract through 2026, with a club option for an additional year. Add these three to club talisman Cole Bassett and loanee Rafael Navarro, and you’ve got the spine of a pretty decent team.

And, it’s already paying dividends. Last season, Cole Bassett was the team’s leading scorer with just six goals. He’s already on five goals this year, and Navarro has eight in 14 games. Mihailovic has added three goals and five assists, while Steffen and Vines have been fixtures in the back, playing every league match thus far. The Rapids are already six points away from matching their point total from the end of last season, and they’ve still got 20 games to play.

Anytime an MLS side signs a player from a European team, it makes noise around here. Those signings typically aren’t American, though. Some may say that each of these guys failed to impress during their time abroad; others may disagree, but one thing is for sure: whether or not the individuals have anything to prove, the Rapids organization is certainly under pressure from their fans to make 2023 better than 2024. Early doors, I’d say their strategy is working. How well it’s going to work over a full season and perhaps a few more, we’ll just have to wait and see.