Rapids believe they got a steal in signing German winger Stefan Aigner

COMMERCE CITY — If Stefan Aigner turns out to be the game-changing attacker the Rapids believe he will be, they will have more than shrewd scouting and talent evaluation to credit for his acquisition. They will be thankful for a stroke of luck, too.

The failure of the German second-division club 1860 Munich in the season that concluded two months ago, which resulted in the team’s fall from the Bundesliga 2 to a Bavarian regional league, enabled the Rapids to sign a player valued at more than $3 million last summer for nothing.

The Rapids acquired Aigner last week and are expected to introduce him here this week after the native of Munich receives a P-1 visa allowing him to play in the United States. Rapids sporting director Padraig Smith sees Aigner as an exciting winger who can play opposite winger Shkëlzen Gashi by stretching the field, creating space and make precision crosses into the penalty area. But only a few weeks ago the Rapids were targeting other players to plug in there because they didn’t think they could afford him until the collapse of 1860 Munich.

“Initially we felt that Stefan was out of our price range,” Smith said. “This is a player who, 12 months ago, was signed by 1860 Munich for 3 million Euros ($3.5 million). We got him for free.”

Aigner, 29, scored 22 goals in 95 appearances for the German first-division club Eintracht Frankfurt from 2012-16, but last summer 1860 Munich purchased him in an effort — backed by a wealthy Arab owner — to lift the club from the second division into the first. The move appealed to Aigner because it was his hometown club, which had ambitious aspirations to challenge crosstown rival Bayern Munich, one of the world’s most successful clubs.

It didn’t work out. 1860 Munich went 10-18-6 in the 2016-17 season, fell out of Bundesliga 2 and had to release all of its players.

“As Stefan said, they were a group of incredibly talented individual players but not a team,” Smith said. “That’s what led to their unfortunate downfall. But from that came our opportunity. We didn’t think we were going to be in a position to sign him.”

Thus the Rapids were able to sign a better player than they realistically were hoping to acquire without having to break the budget. Aigner essentially signed with Colorado as an unrestricted free agent and the Rapids did not have to pay a transfer fee. One soccer transfer website (transfermarkt.com) puts his current value on the open market at $1.175 million. Terms of Aigner’s annual salary with the Rapids were not disclosed.

Aigner fits into the team’s long-term goal to become more of an attacking team. Smith believes he will make Gashi and striker Kevin Doyle — the team’s high-priced “designated players” — a lot more dangerous.

“We’ve got an incredibly talented ‘underneath’ winger in Gashi, somebody who starts wide – plays on the outside – but is very capable of coming underneath (behind the forwards) almost as a creative 10,” Smith said. “That gives you flexibility, but you want to make sure you’ve got that balanced up on the other side.

“We talk about unbalanced balance, if that makes sense. You want to have somebody on the other side who can stretch behind, who can hug the touchline, play as a traditional winger, take on the fullbacks, deliver crosses, get to the byline – which is of critical importance. There’s a small spot right between the 6-yard line and the end line, if players can get to that spot and pull the ball back, that’s a real high-leverage opportunity for attackers.”

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