Rapids relief – How Colorado became the early story of the 2016 MLS season

Ten hours of football can take a lot out of a person. As much as every football journalist likes to think that they are invincible, there does come a time at around hour nine or ten of a matchday when the mind starts to wander.

To continue to stay focused, to keep the interest up, one needs a match that is both interesting and provides a certain level of entertainment.

 

On Saturday night the Colorado Rapids provided that excitement and intrigue in their shock 1-0 victory over the Los Angeles Galaxy on Saturday night.

Although there were certainly more important matches being played at that same time – the Texas derby between FC Dallas and the Houston Dynamo being one of them – there was no match that had more excitement, more panache, and more intrigue.

Entering Saturday night that is not something that one might have thought. The match had all of the makings of a squash match with the Los Angeles Galaxy – home to Steven Gerrard, Robbie Keane, Nigel De Jong, and Gyassi Zardes – taking on the lowly Rapids, picked by many to finish last in the Western Conference.

The club’s two biggest signings – goalkeeper Tim Howard and midfielder Jermaine Jones – aren’t likely to suit up for the side until the summer and until then Colorado is not exactly a side full of household names.

Aside from speculation about when coach Pablo Mastroeni might get fired or sonfusion as to why the club keeps selling off young players, the Rapids have been rather silent and unspectacular for two years.

Yet on Saturday night Colorado shocked the footballing world not just their 1-0 effort. What precipitated this effort? It appears it was a change in style.

For years, the Rapids have implemented a slow, conservative style bent on grinding out 0-0 draws or not losing by a considerable margin. But, with the addition of Shkelzen Gashi, the club seems to have embraced a more open style that emphasizes wearing down opponents at altitude.

On Saturday at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park the Rapids out-ran the Galaxy at 5,200 feet altitude en route to their 1-0 victory.

That change in style seems to have been embraced by the players. After a year of purging their roster the Rapids now feature a side with an interesting blend of veterans – Gashi, Kevin Doyle, Sam Cronin, and Marco Pappa – and young players with high upside  – Dillon Powers, Dominique Badji, and Michael Azira.

That the Rapids game-winning goal came from Pappa, a cast-off of the Sounders, off a header from Doyle shows that perhaps that both players might have finally found a home in Colorado.

 

Second chances seem to be the case all across the club. In goal on Sautrday goalkeeper Zac MacMath looked like the player who was first selected fifth overall by the Philadelphia Union in the 2012 MLS SuperDraft. After having a promising start to his professional career, MacMath fell out of favor in Philadelphia and was shipped to Colorado last season to serve as Clint Irwin’s back-up.

With Irwin gone and Howard not likely coming until June or July, MacMath has an opportunity to show what he is made of. Pulling off a clean sheet against one of the deadliest attacks in MLS is perhaps a sign that he still might have the ability to be a starter.

This squad might look like a patchwork squad and by all estimations it is. Much like with his other sports properties – Arsenal Football Club and the St. Louis Rams – Rapids owner Stan Kroenke runs a very tight fiscal budget on the Denver side.

The Rapids are not exactly known for their big spending ways and are very rarely in conversation for top talent from the United States Men’s National Team or abroad.

The club made multiple offers in the offseason to Mexican internationals Alan Pulido and Carlos Vela and USMNT midfielder Alejandro Bedoya, only to be rebuffed on both occasions. Howard reportedly only signed with the club after the Rapids increased their offer.

Being rejected by international stars and having to dig for players is not necessarily a bad thing. Despite their best efforts, MLS is inching closer to a model where some sides have the capital to pay for top-level players – such as the Galaxy and New York City FC – while others have to count their pennies  – Rapids and D.C. United both come to mind.

For those that cannot afford the likes of Gerrard, mining the MLS pool of players for veteran players and kids looking for second chances. United have proven in recent years that if teams can acquire the right veteran players that a squad can be built to compete against clubs with larger salaries.

It may be a bit too early to determine whether or not the Rapids can keep up this pace. It is just two matches into the season and there are still plenty of twists and turns left in the 2016 campaign.

Still, for one night hope remained for Colorado. After years of many stops and starts it appears that they are finally heading in a winning direction.

Author Details

Sean Maslin

BPF Columnist, Washington Spirit/D.C. United beat writer and general editor-Prost Amerika, Columnist-Playing for 90. Radio MLS: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/radio-mls/id979377624?mt=2

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