I’m a firm believer in the philosophy “your first game of the season will set the tone for the rest of the year.” On March 10th, 2018, the Rapids lost to the New England Revolution in a match that parallels exactly how the Rapids season has been going.
Leaving 2017 in the past was easy for Rapids fans. A trade that went horribly wrong, failure to make the playoffs, and the firing of a head coach was something Rapids fans were quick to want to forget. However, there was still some upside to this 2017 season. A new signing in the name of Stefan Aigner, the global search for a new head coach, and the promise of a new attacking style of soccer- promoted by the club themselves. It was a great sell by the club for all those who wouldn’t be looking to renew season tickets. Months after the season had ended, a new head coach, a whole set of new players, and the promise of attacking soccer.
The Rapids went into that New England game with all the momentum to get a win at Foxboro. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. They lost; 2-1. Which, you should brush aside-the real game is the home opener- but I didn’t. That game left a bad taste in my mouth. I usually don’t let away games get to me that much, however, this one just made me feel uneasy. That loss would go on to reflect how the Rapids season has gone so far.
In the 47th minute, The Rapids conceded due to a cohesive mistake by the goalie, defense, and midfield. Unfortunate, but understandable given that those players were just then playing together for the first time. Five minutes later, the Rapids were awarded a penalty. Hope had returned to the Rapids faithful in the pub I was at. The last time the Rapids had a penalty, it was hit off the post by Badji against the Sounders. So, satirically and with a joking tone, I turn to my friend and say “He’s going to miss…” When Jack Price took the penalty kick and it was saved by Matt Turner, my reaction was somewhere in between a shocked state of confusion but also a state that I had known all too well. This was what it meant to be a Rapids fan-HOWEVER, hope! Again! The ball had bounced right back to Price laid perfectly on a silver platter and… he missed. Not only does he miss the penalty, but he also missed the rebound. Hope restored, hope destroyed, only for it to be restored to be destroyed again. All in 4 seconds. Sigh.
The 65th minute came around and Johan Blomberg (the first transfer in this new era) finds Niki Jackson ( a draft pick from Grand Canyon University) with a lovely ball that Jackson is able to head into the goal on his debut as a professional soccer player. The bar erupted, chants of “Nikki F***ing Jackson” echoed throughout the Celtic Tavern. Our hope for the season had been restored, all was looking good and all felt good. We should have been 2-1 up against them if Price had made that pen. We wanted more. Everyone in that bar wanted 3 points. Our new coach, Anthony Hudson, had other plans. After that goal, the Rapids decided that they wanted a draw from this; cut their losses and move on to the home opener. The plan was a good one for a manager looking to play it safe for a new club. However, things don’t always work the way you plan them to. In the 91st minute, the Rapids conceded a free kick right outside the penalty box. Chris Tierney and Diego Fagundez lined up to take the shot. I turned to my friend, again, and say “he’s gonna score this.” Chris Tierney struck the ball, and it deflected right off Dominique Badji’s head. This familiar state of emotions had returned, the initial shock and the feeling of misery. Fingers were pointed at Tommy Smith for not jumping (I mean, he’s a veteran defender, why didn’t he jump?!), Howard for not reacting in time, and Hudson for not going all out for the win. People left the bar with differing emotions. I was in the “wait and see” viewpoint all while feeling really empty. There wasn’t any rush to be mad or any room to be very optimistic.
This game, in my viewpoint, perfectly reflects how the season has gone. The sloppy defending, the hope of a PK equalizer only for it to be blocked and then a missed rebound, the recovered hope of a guy like Niki Jackson, the plan to bunker down, only to lose it in the final minutes of the game. The goals the Rapids have conceded (36 as of the 3rd of August), have all been too defensive errors/lapses of concentrations, Tim Howard not reacting in time, or a combination of both. Our hope came in the form of Aigner only for him to leave in controversial fashion due to a falling out with the gaffer. Our road game tactics of just bunkering down and trying to go in for a draw only for it to blow up in our faces with sloppy defending. The fact that whenever we have someone exciting like a Jackson or a Serna, they ride the bench. All of these combinations have made this season another one to forget. There is, surprisingly, plenty to still be hopeful about. The Rapids, in what seems like a bad move in PR terms, made a ballsy summer signing trading away the leading goalscorer in Badji for the young US international box to box midfielder Kellyn Acosta. The move has still yet to pan out, but it’s looking like it was a very good trade. The Rapids also acquired Giles Barnes, an MLS veteran coming back into the league after an injury with a big chip on his shoulder. For him it’s a good move, for the Rapids… time will tell.
What Needs To Happen
The Rapids have a less than 1% chance of making the playoffs, and while I’d like to believe that Tim Howard’s take about the league being about streaks, the Rapids aren’t going to go on a 9 game winning streak all while hoping RSL and teams above them drop points. It’s very unlikely. The Kellyn Acosta trade is purely a 2019 move, the club will be looking to make this be the team that resurrects Acosta. In my opinion, Acosta isn’t someone you build around. He’s someone that can complement and improve your system. Which is what he will be doing for the Rapids in these remaining games. Serna and Hairston need to be seeing the field, as much as I love seeing Castillo score bangers and rip the left side, there’s no guarantee he will be here next year. (He’s on loan, may I remind you). If Serna nor Hairston play, I think it’s in their best interest to leave the Rapids and find greener pastures. If Hudson is not going to play them then there’s no reason to have them rotting on the bench. The Rapids need to groom Niki Jackson to be the next bargain striker that goes on to become the club’s top goalscorer. They also need to get a #10. It’s been 4 years now that Rapids fans have been wanting and yearning for a player like Giovinco, Valeri, Almiron, or Quintero. Someone that’s gonna dribble past defenders and make plays happen. After two years of injury, I don’t think Gashi will be a DP player next year (whether Colorado pays him down to a TAM contract or he leaves the club), as well as Tim Howard who, based on speculation, looks to retire once the Rapids play in Memphis on Saturday 9th. And lastly, what the Rapids will need to do this season is to bring back the Rocky Mountain Cup. It’s a bit of a stretch to ask for a 4-0 win to bring it home but if the Rapids want to win the fans back they will go all out to bring the cup back. They need to show that they still have some fight so that I and anyone reading this goes to the games. #ItsComingHome