EDITORIAL – With two losses and no points, Colorado Rapids have a near-impossible path to the knockout stage of the MLS is Back tournament. With COVID-19 far from under control in the United States, it doesn’t look like a normal MLS regular season can resume anytime soon.
Like years past, hope sprang eternal for the Rapids in March. It’s mid-July and the season is effectively over, just like those years past. It’s a feeling all too familiar: It’s the hope that kills you. That’s so Rapids.
That’s So Rapids: Nobody’s Fault, Same Feelings
In 2017, the club was coming off a near Supporters’ Shield winning season. A trade, a tardy summer signing, and Pablo Mastroeni’s inability to adjust saw the team miss the playoffs. There was hope and it killed the supporters.
In 2018, Anthony Hudson was in his first year. The club spent money raiding the English Championship for veteran players. Most of those turned out to be busts. Hudson’s tactics were poor, or he did a poor job implementing them, or the players were poor at executing those tactics. Maybe a bit of all three. The Rapids almost won the Wooden Spoon. There was hope and it killed the supporters.
In 2019, the Rapids got off to a historically bad start. Hudson was sacked. Conor Casey stabilized things in the summer but the team was hardly dominating. Then Robin Fraser was appointed as the permanent manager in August. The team continued to play well but not well enough to make the playoffs. Massive drama was needed to make the playoffs on Decision Day, but it didn’t happen. There was hope and it killed the supporters.
Hope, Failure, and Hope Again:
The Colorado Rapids fanbase is one of the most tortured in the league. The failings of years past are complex. Some of it is circumstantial, bad luck even. The Denver, CO market is tough and the club’s had many struggles similar to other MLS Originals, feeling left behind.
There’s been a fair bit of ineptitude and self-sabotage from the club itself and ambivalence from the Kroneke’s. Still, people and plans are changed and there’s a belief that anything is possible in MLS. The Rapids can pull themselves together for a year, even become consistently competitive. Or at least that’s the belief.
That’s become a theme with the Rapids Community:
The club makes some changes in the off-season. They seem reasonable and effective. The season begins and there is hope and optimism. Then for various reasons it all falls apart. By mid-July it’s abundantly clear the team won’t win anything by season’s end. Another rebuild is needed and it will be inevitably botched or mismanaged.
The feeling and time of the year are about the same at present, but causes are very different. Colorado won their first two games of the season. The COVID-19 pandemic shutdown MLS after that. The MLS is Back tournament brought with it many challenges and unknown.
Colorado had a poor start and lacked focus against Real Salt Lake in their first group stage game. It was their worst performance under Head Coach Robin Fraser. They played a good 60 minutes against Sporting KC but then they made some poor plays, had some referee decisions go against them, and they lost.
No True Villains or Scapegoats:
There was a good mix veterans, young talent with upside, and two new Designated Players. Fraser was a fantastic hire. Back in March it looked finally like the club had their act together. Not grinding their way to a playoff run like 1997. Not a case where they’re one of the last teams in and get hot at the right time like 2010 that’s not replicable. Or 2016 which also was not sustainable.
The hope finally seemed to be backed up with competence with the club heading in the right direction. Genuine quality change for the long term. Nothing could get in their way, except a global pandemic and a one-off tournament where the smallest error could cost you everything.
The regular season is in doubt with the pandemic still going on. This tournament might be all the soccer Colorado plays this year. And short of a win against Minnesota United FC and a lot of help elsewhere, their season could end on Wednesday.
This writer can’t really criticize the club. They seemed to do mostly right things leading up to the start of the season. They were in position to finally compete for the playoffs on a consistent basis. A force majeure shutdown the season. What’s replaced it is non-ideal and came with a bunch of complications and uncertainties.
A few tiny issues or mistakes get magnified in a tournament format and can send you home early. The format of competition is very different but the letdown is déjà vu. It mostly not the club’s or anyone’s fault. It might be nobody’s fault. The result, this situation, just happened.
In that, 2020 might be the most ‘That’s so Rapids’ to ever ‘That’s so Rapids.’