As a supporter of a soccer club, we have a unique ability to enjoy the ups and the downs, the wins and losses, the highs and lows. It is never easy to see your team struggle against weaker opponents, but we have. We sit there, get upset, and then move on to the next match. That is what we do as supporters. As a supporter of the Colorado Rapids, this can be especially tough. But something has happened over the last 18 months.
The Rapids have become relevant.
It may sound funny to say that. The Rapids are just three years removed from an MLS Cup Championship. But for many in American Soccer circles, that Cup was a fluke. I remember reading "an own goal is not a way to win a Cup." And yet we hoisted that Cup in 2010.
But when looking at the Rapids history, we have never been a big deal to more that just the die-hard supporters of this club. Hell, the Rapids have called three different stadiums home in the 18 years of the club. Not to mention there have been three different crests used to define the Rapids. The Rapids also have the ignominy of being the only MLS side to lose the US Open Cup to a non-MLS team (in 1999 if you forgot).
This was a club searching for an identity. This was a club searching to be relevant.
How did all this change? Was a magic wand waved?
There was no magic wand waved, but there has been some pretty exciting things going on. First off, there is a management structure in place with Tim Hinchey, Paul Bravo, and Oscar Pareja who all get along and work together to bring another Cup back to Colorado. These three decided that they were going to change the way the Rapids played and would suffer through a rough patch to get it done. (2012 was that rough patch no doubt)
The second thing that was done was the slow jettisoning of veterans. This is always emotional for folks when our heroes get traded, cut or forced out, but for the Rapids to truly become relevant and a force in the league, people had to go. Many of the players they had were not going to be able to work in the system that Pareja wanted to play and so you saw, over the last 18 months, the departure of such fan favorites as Conor Casey, Omar Cummings, Jeff Larentowicz, Mac Kandji, and of course Pablo Mastroeni. None were easy decisions to make, but for this team to become relevant--tough choices have to be made.
The next step along the path of relevancy for the Rapids was to bring in younger and hungrier players. There is no greater evidence of this then the 2013 draft class of the Rapids (Deshorn Brown, Dillion Powers, Kory Kindle, and Brenton Griffiths), the signing of Chris Klute (who has a great argument for the best left back in MLS), having Homegrown Player Shane O’Neill emerge (and he might be the teams MVP), and of course the MLS Newcomer of the Year Clint Irwin.
And let’s not forget that the Rapids signed the first Designated Player in team history, Gabriel Torres this month.
Along with the player moves there have been more subtle things that have been done. The #OneClub hashtag shows the culture of this club: we are one club together building a champion. Heck, Season Ticket Holders have their names on the home kit. Then the Colorado themed secondary shirt was developed and is the best looking shirt in MLS. Little things like this add to the relevance that the club has been building.
And then there is the matter of winning the Rocky Mountain Cup for the first time in seven years.
But what is truly comes down to is the play on the field. Warm feelings are fine and all, but if the team sucks, no one will care. This is a young, dynamic, and entertaining squad with a tremendous up-side. The Rapids are in the thick of the playoff race in the West and have a chance to make some noise if they make top 5 in the West.
All of this adds up to the Rapids being something they have not been, even with a Cup victory, relevant. People in MLS are taking notice of the team and the crowds at Dick Sporting Goods Park are reflective of the Rapids relevancy. How many seasons can you say that the Rapids sold out back to back matches?
So will this translate into another Cup run? It is hard to tell when the West is so packed with quality teams, but I know this team will leave it all out on the pitch for their final eight games. And as a supporter and season ticket holder bleeding burgundy has never been more relevant.