Vultures were beginning to take notice of the Colorado Rapids after the Sporting Kansas City game. Even after the record unbeaten run, the remarkably poor performance against KC left many (including myself) wondering if the team had enough left to finish this season strong. In important ways it would be a successful season regardless of making the playoffs, but did the team have what it takes to not let the slip-up in KC define the end of their season? What they showed in LA this weekend suggests that they do.
There were several factors behind the doubt that crept in after the Rapids first loss in 10 games. First, the Rapids have a long history of maddening inconsistency. Their only MLS Cup is a good example: after an average season, they were the best team in the 2010 playoffs. On the flip side, they had great runs in 1999 and 2004 (among others), looking every bit of serious contenders, only to fall apart as the season went on. LA Galaxy fans (for example) can trust their team to compete consistently across a season (or more), the Rapids haven't earned that yet.
Another factor is the team's youth and relative inexperience at key positions. For all the justified acclaim stemming from the surprising play of the team and the impressive performances of many young players, that's just it--it was surprising. Let's not forget that some predicted this would be a rebuilding year. After a quarter of the team went down with injuries, many more thought the season would be the dreaded "learning experience." But the Rapids surprised. They persevered. Despite all the ready-made excuses, they even thrived. After the KC game, that little voice in the back of the mind wondered if this was the end of the magical run. Could a young team who had lost four leaders (Conor Casey, Omar Cummings, Jeff Larentowicz and Pablo Mastroeni) in the past months muster up the desire to win the tough games against a pretty formidable end-of-season schedule?
Well the Rapids went a long way toward answering that on Saturday. Yes, LA was missing their three best players, all irreplaceable. But the Rapids came in nursing some wounded pride, yet they showed no doubts of their own. If they had those little voices in the backs of their heads, they turned them off. They fought hard and won a key road game. This team showed its character.