Predicting playoff spots in Major League Soccer not even halfway through a season can be and usually is a fool's errand.
But for a team like the Colorado Rapids, postseason play is an important measuring stick for the team's progress. Teams like the Rapids don't often get expensive, splashy signings and the expectations that come with them. That's why national soccer writers always give the Rapids a dismissive shrug in their preseason writeups.
The Rapids got little love this year, owing mostly to the fact that Oscar Pareja skipped town and the team replaced him so late in the offseason with Pablo Mastroeni, a longtime player with no coaching experience. Such analysis ignores the the riverbed of talent the Rapids have just below the surface.
Right now Colorado sits in third place in the Western Conference, which is an odd position when you think about all of the Rapids' ups and downs this year. Colorado's positioning in the standings has benefitted from slow starts by two of last year's playoff teams in the Portland Timbers and Los Angeles Galaxy.
Don't look now, but both of those teams are galloping toward the teams ahead of them in the standings. I think you almost have to consider them locks to make the playoffs. Portland looked pedestrian at the start of the year but their roster has too much talent to stay home late in the season. This Galaxy squad isn't your older brother's Galaxy, but they still have enough steam in the bones of its roster to keep up a strong pace into the latter stages of the season.
While that sounds grim for the Rapids, consider FC Dallas' plummeting status in the standings, its recent victory over the Rapids notwithstanding. And the Vancouver Whitecaps are showing signs of putting forth another overrated season.
In all likelihood, the Rapids will be battling it out for a playoff spot deep into the regular season, as usual. A good guess has them perhaps snagging a fourth or fifth spot, if they qualify for the playoffs.
Given their challenges this season — a new coach whose inexperience shows in lineup selection and a misfiring Gabriel Torres — perhaps this is the best we could have expected in 2014.