Had this team lost to the San Jose Earthquakes at home, there is a chance I wouldn't have this sentiment. Had they lost to Columbus, especially if it was a loss after blowing the 1-0 home advantage, I certainly wouldn't. But win or lose in the MLS Cup finals, this squad is the best side that the Colorado Rapids have ever put out onto a football pitch.
Certainly an argument can easily be made for the team that went to the 1997 MLS Cup Finals to lose against the black and red powerhouse that was DC United. With such names as Marcus Hahnemann, Paul Bravo, Chris Henderson and Marcelo Balboa it would be hard to call that 1997 squad a sub-par team despite their 14-18 record, which was obviously mostly due to the fact that shootouts were still in effect to keep draws out of the MLS in the early days. Many great teams were kept out of good playoff positions and many bad teams were given free points every couple of games out of the pure luck that is shootouts.
Compare these two teams side by side, though.Goalkeeper: It's hard to call Matt Pickens better than Marcus Hahnemann in any respect. Hahnemann not only has a couple of caps for the USA to call his own but has been able to stick on Premier League side Wolves as well as getting a short stint at Fulham earlier in his career after his time with the Rapids. Pickens couldn't even get a single start at Championship staple Queens Park Rangers. Pickens is truly talented and having one of the best years of his career, but I would probably take a younger Hahnemann over our current Pickens.
Defense: The Colorado defense of old was certainly formidable just having Balboa on it alone, but in my opinion did not have the pure, raw talent that the new defense has at every single position. Anthony Wallace, Drew Moor, Marvell Wynne and Kosuke Kimura provide a perfect balance of speed and grit all over, helping them set the franchise record for fewest goals allowed. The depth is nice as well, with Julien Baudet providing size off the bench and a still young Danny Earls earning his stripes in MLS.
Obviously, the fact that shootouts were still allowed back in the days made the defense look worse than it probably was. Hard fought draws often turned into losses for the Rapids in the early days especially. But can you imagine that 1997 defense losing only two games at Mile High Stadium? Can you imagine them keeping their goal differential in the top tiers of the league?
Midfield: This one is hard to judge. Nobody in the current Rapids midfield has the scoring ability of Chris Henderson, but did the 1997 squad have anyone with the pure drive and talent on defense as Pablo Mastroeni? While the 1997 squad was built for offense with a fairly weak striker tandem featuring Paul Bravo and... well, nobody else, this current squad is a defensive marvel. Even a guy like Wells Thompson who has a bit of scoring touch to him is a marvelous defender when he needs to be, although perhaps Wells isn't the best example as he is known for collecting yellow cards on somewhat malicious fouls at times.
Offense: This one is a wash. Never before in the history of the Rapids have they been able to claim one of the top MLS striker duos in the league. They have that now and they have it in spades. Certainly, having Paul Bravo is a tip of the cap to the 1997 squad, but who else could come up to the plate and face the duo of Cummings and Casey? Wolde Harris? Shaun Bartlett? Steve Rammel? The current striker duo up top would go down as the best in Rapids history, even if this wasn't the best team overall in Rapids history. And this truly is the best, no matter what happens in the final.