COMMERCE CITY, CO - JUNE 30: Conor Casey #9 of the Colorado Rapids gets tangled up with Mamadou Danso #98 of the Portland Timbers as they battle for control of a loose ball during their game at Dick's Sporting Goods Park June 30, 2012 in Commerce City, Colorado. (Photo by Marc Piscotty/Getty Images)
Remember when I said April was Hell Month? Well, that was just the warm up, my friends. July is almost certainly going to make or break the Rapids' season. There are six games in the month, five of which are against Western rivals -- four of those games are against teams ahead of the Rapids in the West, too. The other is against an Eastern team that the Rapids have never once beaten on the road.
Oh, and did we mention that a friendly with an EPL team is scheduled smack dab in between two of the toughest looking games on the schedule?
Sound tough? Well, it's going to be. If the Rapids have another mediocre month like they did in the first 29 days of June, they might play themselves out of the playoff race before we can even think of August. If they do well, they can put themselves right in the drivers seat in the West.
Let's take a look at the month ahead:July 4th vs. Vancouver Whitecaps - We don't talk about what happened the last time these two teams met around here. Fortunately for us, it's a July 4th game and the Rapids always seem to bring their A-Game when it comes to fireworks games. Right now they're 11-2-3 all time on July 4th -- or whatever game happens to be closest, seeing as how last year's game was on the 3rd -- though two of them in a row now have been rather boring draws.
July 7th at Seattle Sounders - Oh good, another game at CenturyLink Field. The Rapids' struggles there are well documented, as they've never won a game there and only rarely have even come close. The first meeting of the two teams this year was probably the closest they've come to a win, but a Zach Scott header ruined a decent run at a point or three. This time will probably end just as well as all the other attempts have, especially with a rested Fredy Montero returning to the rave green after a suspension.
There is something a bit different about the Seattle team we'll be meeting in July though. Even if they defeat Real Salt Lake at Rio Tinto -- a tough draw to be sure -- they will still have gone eight straight games without a win before that game, a terrible stretch that has seen them drop from Supporters Shield contenders to playoff scrapers like ourselves. Perhaps the Rapids can take advantage? I don't know.
What's that? Steve Zakuani might be back for this one as well? Damn, this game is going to have way too many story-lines to count.
July 14th vs. FC Dallas -This would seem to be the easiest game of the bunch this month because of Dallas' position in the standings, but it would be a mistake to write the hoops off. They are still a very talented team and every game between Dallas and Colorado can and will lean into the unpredictable. They'll be very fired up to get revenge for the 2-0 loss in Frisco earlier in the year that featured Blas Perez and Daniel Hernandez getting sent off as well. This one may come down to who has the healthier side at the time, in the end.
July 18th at Toronto FC - Stop me if you've heard this one before, Toronto FC play in a stadium that the Rapids have never won a game at before. BMO Field has always been a bit of a problem for Colorado, as it often is for other teams in front of the rabid Reds fanbase. Getting a point out of all of the road games this month would be pretty good, but the Rapids really need to break out of the BMO slump and take down the team that just a few months ago was 'the worst team in the world.'
July 21st at Real Salt Lake - What else is there to say about the Rapids-Real rivalry at this point? RSL has managed to keep the Rapids from recording a victory for quite a while, with Colorado's last win over Salt Lake back in May of 2009. Since then it's been frustrating loss after frustrating loss, and the Rapids absolutely need to win at Rio Tinto on the 21st if they want to get the Rocky Mountain Cup back after losing 2-0 in their first meeting this year.
Oh yeah, did we mention that Rio Tinto is another stadium they've never won a game in? Yep, every single road game this month is happening in a stadium that we've never won in. (As with the others though, they've come close...)
July 24th vs. Swansea City - Friendly! I don't know how much I like the location of this on the schedule though. The last thing we need after a surely hard fought game against RSL is a game against an EPL opponent to tire the team out before the next all important game against the Sounders. Ah well, still going to be fun!
July 28th vs. Seattle Sounders - When I said that the Rapids had never won at CenturyLink Field earlier, that was only part of the story. In fact, Colorado has only beat the Sounders once in their short history when a Conor Casey wonder strike took them down in 2010's meeting at DSGP. This needs to be the year that they break that streak to get out of July and the home game against Seattle presents the best chance to get a point or three from them out of the season series if they can't take advantage of the reeling rave green earlier in the month.
As said before, a good run in July could get the Rapids right into the thick of the top three seeds in the West. With the team now healthy and looking good, we can have a bit of hope in that regard. If they fall back into the slog that lost them the San Jose and Vancouver games though, we might be in for a very tough last few months of the season as the team is forced to scratch and claw themselves into the playoff spots.