Colorado Rapids Press Box: What Saturday’s Fanless Game was Like in Person

Colorado Rapids Press Box

COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – So the Colorado Rapids played a game at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park on Saturday. It was their first real home game since March 7. Like most games the rest of this MLS season, it was without fans in the stands. Here’s what it was like to be there in person in the Rapids press box.

Rapids Press Box: What a Fanless Pandemic Game was Like In Person

First of all, I view media access in MLS as a privilege and it must be respected. I take it very seriously, especially in times like this were supporters cannot attend games in person. I tweet and write about the Colorado Rapids (and other games I attend) as if there’s at least one person who’s only able to follow the game through my coverage.

A very limited number of independent media members are able to attend matches right now. It’s critical that I and my colleagues provide eyes and ears to fans in their absence.

I’m lucky to get to watch the Rapids in person the rest of this year and I have a duty to every person who clicks on this article to keep them informed. With that, here’s what last night’s game was like.

Getting Inside the Stadium:

The league’s instituted new health protocols for matches after the MLS is Back tournament. All media have to RSVP for individual games with the club, even those with season credentials.

There were updated media policies. TL;DR we had to wear a mask, maintain physical distancing, and couldn’t interact with certain types of people. It’s unlikely the press will be speaking in person to any coaches or players the rest of this year.

Upon arriving to the stadium we had to go through security at Gate H. That consists of a metal detector and bag check, same as in the Before Times. We fill out a health assessment questionnaire on our phones, provided by a QR code. Basically answer whether you’ve had symptoms, tested positive, or come in contact with someone who has. Pass all that, you get a color coded lanyard (red) and enter the stadium at concourse level.

Being in the Stadium:

Normally, we’re up in the Rapids press box, north half of the top level on the west side of DSG. You’re right on top of the field with a full view. Instead, we were located on the concourse level, Sections 133-128-ish. They had tables set up behind the last row of seats with outlets or power strips, one person to a table. Same part of the field, lower view point, more desk space.

I counted six tables for written press staff. There were separate work areas/stations for TV and photography staff. Maybe 10 showed up including the club’s photo/camera staff in these areas.

They still had field level access, but within a sectioned off area on the north side of the field. Again, the protocol prohibits media and technical staff from coming in contact.

Very few non-media people walked by on the concourse behind us once the game started. The club sectioned off this area for us to watch and cover the game. We don’t leave that area. Nobody else enters it unless need be.

Food was still provided, but it was all pre-packaged. We got a sandwich with chips, a piece of fruit, and a drink. Not our usual decent (and gradually improving) buffet, but I’m not going to complain given the situation and the fact that it’s free. I missed the fresh baked cookies at halftime.

Normally in the Rapids press box, Jake Shapiro, Abbie Lang, and I (sometimes a few others) are sitting right next to each other. Sometimes there’s a seat or two between us. But we’re within earshot and constantly talking.

“Did you see who did X?” “Do you remember this stat I’m trying to look up?” “How do you think so-and-so is playing?” “What are they trying to do here?” “Why do we cover this team when we all know RSL’s just going to win in the end?”

There was much less of that. We were 15+ feet apart and our voices were muffled from wearing masks. I had to slightly raise my voice just to get a neighbor’s attention. It’s easier for us to cover the game when we can put our heads together. We aren’t able to help each other out as much with this setup.

Atmosphere in and Around the Stadium:

It was dead to be honest. Remove the security at the entrances and there was no one around the stadium when I drove/walked up. There were more cars parked along E 60th Ave the day of Robin Fraser’s introductory press conference. For understandable reasons, the minimum number of people needed to make this game happen were present.

It was also weird given the haze from the fires taking place in Western Colorado. As the night went on, the lighting was a bit different inside the stadium. The smelled like my apartment when I burn a casserole in the oven.

The national anthem wasn’t played pregame in accordance with league policy. The moments before kickoff felt all kinds of not normal. No anthem or pregame procession. No fireworks that always surprise and spook me, even though I’m ready for it.

If the Rapids play a home game and Mountain Roads isn’t played, does it even count?

It felt like a training game or what I imagine an MLS is Back game felt like in person. You could hear everything on the field, though with how far away we were from the players, we couldn’t understand everything.

You could hear when the bench of one team all reacted to something. You could hear both goalkeepers when the game situation called for orders being barked. There was an audible thud for every touch on the ball, like in FIFA when you’re doing a skills game/training drill.

For the record, William Yarbrough and Danny Wilson were the loudest Colorado players on the field. Being able to hear who was talking and understanding 40% of what was being said gave insight into what both teams were trying to do.

Let’s Talk About the Tarps:

So there’s empty seats all over stadiums and areas in sports right now. We’ve seen the MLS green screen ad boards. The NBA is doing a virtual fan video wall. The NHL has a mix of tarps and extra video boards.

We’ve seen a mixed bag around the Soccer World of fan cardboard cut outs, supporter flags, tarps with team logos, messages, and even advertisements, and more. From the MLS in market games we’ve seen, most teams have had physical tarps in the stands.

The Rapids elected to have virtual tarps on the TV broadcast in the upper half of the stands. The only physical coverings over empty seats were two C38 tifos in the south stands. One of them was the now famous mantric Keep Fighting tifo from 2016.

I withhold judgement or praise until we’ve seen what every team/stadium does about empty seats at home. Some teams went all out. I don’t know how much the technology to make the virtual seat cover graphics cost. But I’m not surprised that the Rapids don’t have physical coverings.

The big video board on the north side of the stadium did not show any replays all game. It just had the background Rapids graphic. It would have been nice to have the live video/replay showing, not just for us but for the players and coaches as well.

Last Word: Soccer is Nothing Without the Fans

Last night was the weirdest MLS game I’ve ever attended. There was no atmosphere. I kept waiting to hear a response from the crowd to what was happening on the field, a chant from C38 in Section 117, anything other than just players and coaches yelling.

If there was any doubt about fans and supporters being critical to soccer in so many ways, that’s been put to rest during this pandemic.

I look forward to being in the Colorado Rapids press box the rest of this season. I even more look forward to fans being able to attend matches, and thus a return to normalcy.