The game against Vancouver may have seemed meaningless at heart, but there was quite a lot at stake in the end. With essentially the worst possible scenario coming to fruition, the Rapids are in the playoffs but with a frightening amount of work ahead of them.
Much was made in 2010 about how easy Colorado's road to the MLS Cup final was. Drawing against Real Salt Lake in the final match of the season stung at the time, but it gave the Rapids an incredibly weak Columbus Crew side to take on, followed by a San Jose Earthquakes side that needed a miracle of their own to get that far. Dallas in the final instead of LA was another lucky break, own goal though they needed to win it. A sequence of lucky breaks, at least ones of that sort of scheduling magnitude, appears unlikely for the Rapids this time around. If they're making the MLS Cup final, they're going to have earned it.
Losing 3-0 to the Whitecaps knocked them down to the 5th seed in the West, and also kept them at 51 points. That's still a record-breaking number for this team, but in this tight season, it has them tied for the second-to-last seed in the playoffs overall. That means road games. Lots of road games. If you aren't aware, the Rapids have been really, really bad on the road this year. They boast the fourth-worst road goal differential of any playoff team, and they haven't scored a goal on the road since their 1-0 win over LA in early September.
To make the MLS Cup, the Rapids will have to win a road game in Seattle, win a two-legged series against a team they couldn't beat at all this season, and then win another series against either the two-time defending MLS Champions or against their biggest rivals. After that, the only way that they'll host the cup is if the Montreal Impact or Houston Dynamo manage to scrape their way into the final. (Then again, that seems to be Houston's specialty.)
Again, if the Rapids end up hoisting the Cup this season, there's not a soul in this country that would be able to say they didn't earn it.
Am I saying all is lost? Hell no. If this team is healthy and gets a few lucky bounces (and doesn't start Nick Labrocca as a striker ever again) there's always a chance that another Cup could be on the horizon. I'm just saying that it's time to remember that at the start of this season, nobody expected we would even get this far. We may need to soothe our souls with that knowledge a bit if the tides turn the way they look likely to.