There were always going to be doubters from the beginning. This is a team that has often shined for brief periods but has been unable to sustain winning form over a long period of time. These kind of thoughts are no longer on the forefront as the Rapids are proving they're capable of closing out games. That being said, many Rapids fans have understandbly felt bitter the way MLS staff writers choose to cover the Rapids as well as how they favor big market teams regardless of their on field success or failure. Today, Rapids fans are probably feeling a lot different as the power rankings just came out and MLS announcements are more favorable too.
MLS Power Rankings just released today have the Rapids in 4th overall in MLS. The Rapids sit in 3rd place in the Western Conference. Albeit with 2 games in hand over 1st and 2nd place Seattle and Kansas City. Fittingly, the Rapids play Sporting KC this Saturady on the road. Keep in mind these rankings are subjective and open to in herit bias. However, it still gives us a good barometer of relative league success and strength. Additionally, the club made a big announcement today that the Oct 9th game has been moved to Oct 10th and will be televised on ESPN. Our first national tv game of the season!
(Image: Colorado Rapids)
Beating Real Salt Lake
When the Rapids hosted RSL on Saturday night there was an air of optimism about the place. A rain storm rolled in just before kickoff but the skies opened up for what looked to be a beautiful evening. And a beautiful evening it was. Despite not playing their best game of the season, the Rapids were able to grind it out. Rusnak converted a lethal strike inside the box on a play that was difficult to stop. RSL took the lead in the 51'.
It didn't last long as Captain Jack Price stepped up to take a corner kick in the 64'. A very crafty job by Rubio as he didn't really have to jump to head it into the bottom corner. It felt like it took forever for the ball to find the back of the net. But when it did, Dick's Sporting Goods Park erupted. The optimism in the air was palpable. Rubio's celebration lifted the crowd. Tie game with under a half hour to go.
We once again we saw second half adjustments from Head Coach Robin Fraser which appear to have made all the difference. We can dissect one moment like this when Lewis, Shinyashiki and Mezquida all subbed on and say this is the moment. This is when the game changed. The three attackers were fluid and frequently switched positions with each other. It appeared that Fraser transitioned the team (as he often does when tying/losing) to a 433 formation.
In the 71', a moment of pure magic changed the game. Rosenberry played the ball out wide to Galvan. Galvan brought the sauce, literally dropping his defender to the ground, which gave him enough space to tee it up on his gifted left foot. Galvan surveyed the box, nobody open. From just outside the box, Kaye seized the opportunity and made brave and strong run forward. A perfectly timed ball between the centerbacks, Kaye rises up and emphathically finishes with his head. The eruption from the crowd was simply amazing. It was probably the loudest we've seen DSG Park in quite some time. It ended up being the game winning goal and will likely go down as one of the best moments of the entire season.
(Image: Colorado Rapids)
How'd they do it?
Yes the subs made by Fraser were huge. Overcoming obstacles like not playing very well but grinding out a result. But there's more to it especially if you take a broader view. Here's the bottom line: the players are bought in, coaching is top notch, the front office is executing and they're all in sync. It's fair to say that The Rapids Way, as outlined by GM Padraig Smith and co a few years back, is fully in effect and is a successful strategy.
One clear sign of a team "bought in" is when you see squad players contributing. When you rotate the squad at this level. Competition in every single position on the field. A mix of youth and veteran experience. These are the type of things that winning teams do. Doesn't matter who's in. Doesn't matters who's out. Doesn't matter if you're dominating the game or struggling. They're finding a way to grind out results. And it's an absolutel joy to watch. So much so that the national media is paying attention and giving credit were it's due. The Rapids can no longer be ignored. Nor can they be "under the radar" any longer. Regardless of what you think of MLS or national media's opinions, every single coach in MLS notices. Every single team in MLS knows that the Rapids are a serious team and one not to be messed with.
With the summer transfers in, it's fair to say that Mark-Athony Kaye is a huge difference maker. In LA, he frequently played in a deeper role with more defensive duties. Since playing on Colorado soil, HC Fraser has unleashed the MAK attack. It's clear to see that Kaye joining the attack, making runs forward and having midfield coverage behind him is beneficial to the team's success. Although he had a Man of the Match performance in his debut game, his game winning second half goal against RSL has cemented his status. Another MLS Team of the Week nomination on top of the Man of the Match performance vs RSL for the Canadian has the Rapids faithful pinching themselves. As the season progresses, it's reasonable to expect Kaye to be starting in every possible match.
(Image: Colorado Rapids)
As we look forward to the rest of the season, I'm going to stop pretending like we're starting with anything except a 5 at the back formation. It's working and there's no reason to change it. This goes back to one of my original points, that is simply doesn't matter who's playing in what position. They get it done. Next man up mentality is working and I don't expect this to change.
Auston Trusty has proven his worth with a fantastic season. His centerback partners Danny Wilson and Lalas Abubakar are all in form. All three are literally undroppable right now. The added flexibility of being able to play Trusty at left back/left wingback really strengthens the team. It's safe to say that Rapids fans are glad to see Trusty prove himself, but also glad to see Abubakar earn his way back into the team. The defense as a whole is performing well with Yarbrough perhaps having the season of his life. The midfield from Price and Warner, to Shinyashiki and Galvan, have worked hard for each other defensively and it's paying off. As good as teams at the very top like Seattle, KC, New England and NYCFC are- I don't think anyone wants to face the Rapids down the strech. This team is catching fire when it matters most.
(Image: Colorado Rapids)
Sporting KC on the road Saturday
The Rapids travel to Kansas City this Saturday in a huge matchup. My expectation is the Kellyn Acosta would be available and Younes Namli is still out injured. Otherwise we are essentially at full strength. Last time we went to Blue Hell the 352 was ripped open. Daniel Salloi found the space down our right flank as the gaps were exposed easily. I don't think this means we'll change formations but HC Fraser will prepare accordingly. I'm expecting more of the same in terms of a solid defensive shape, set peice threats and counter attacking threats. Obviously the Rapids need a strong defensive performance but the second most important thing to do will be transitioning to attack quickly and efficiently.
I'll have more coverage as we get closer to kickoff. Enjoy the buildup to our next match Rapids fans! Lots of excitement going into this one. Until next time, stay safe out there soccer fans!
8/28 7:08PM MT Kickoff
Altitude Sports on Comcast and AT&T Now. ESPN + out of market.
92.5FM on your radio dial in the Denver area