So how are you feeling right now Colorado Rapids fans?
Are you surprised?
Are you saying to yourself "I totally called this?"
Or, are you confused?
So how are you feeling?
This is a team that sits third in the Supporters Shield Standings
I am pretty sure that no one could have called how this season has started.
When I looked at the schedule in January my thoughts were simple: the first nine games were going to be brutal, but they would be a measuring stick of this team and would give us a good idea how 2016 would go. Bomb the first nine games and heads would roll by the 2016 Copa America Centenario break.
But if you get off to a good start, this team might just be able to make a run this year.
And they are off to a good start sitting with a 4-2-1 (13 points) record and could reasonably have four more points if not for some pretty glaring mistakes.
The Rapids seem to have some good attacking options in Marco Pappa, Shkelzen Gashi, Kevin Doyle and Luis Solignac. The have some young and hungry players in Dominique Badji, Dillon Serna and Zach Pfeffer.
And their defense has given up the fewest goals in MLS.
They have added big named players in Gashi, Jermaine Jones and Tim Howard. This is a team that is finally taking competing seriously and even Major League Soccer is taking notice!
So why am I not jumping up and down and singing to the hills?
Because I am worried about a few things:
1) Fast Starts Don't Mean Everything--the Rapids are not immune to good starts in Major League Soccer. In 2014, the first year of the Pablo Mastroeni era, the Rapids were 3-2-2 (11 points) after 7 games. They would only win five more that season. In 2012, the Rapids won 3 out of their first 4 and missed the playoffs that season. And in 2011, the Rapids won their first three and then lost the next three.
The point is that the start is not as relevant as the finish. Yes, this has been a start that has completely exceeded all expectations. And I am beyond tickled that the team looks to be developing an identity. But this start has not, and it will not, have me say this is a playoff team.
2) Scoring Goals--the Rapids are still not scoring a ton. 1.0 goals per game is great, but it is not the mark of a championship team. Now, games 1-5 the Rapids had 3 goals and have four in their last two. So things may be on the rise in this department, but it is still a concern. The Rapids have to consistently show that they can score goals and so far this season they have not.
3) Coaching--look, the biggest concern for me is still coaching. Mastroeni at times has shown the inability to man-manage with his lack of substitutions in matches. This either shows a lack of knowledge in game situations or a lack of faith in his players. In addition, it seems like he looks at a dart board and throws darts at the players who should be starting. It is a concern for me and it might be the biggest obstacle for this team.
But with all of that pessimism, I am also finding some optimism running through my veins:
1) Testicular Fortitude--this is a Rapids team that has show heart, grit, and yes, balls in picking up their four wins this season. They defeated the star-studded LA Galaxy team which is NEVER easy and they defeated Toronto FC.
But those are not the one that makes me think this team is different. The two most recent wins make me think that maybe, just maybe, this team could be the real deal. Pretty much: if the Rapids go down a goal or give up a goal that ties the game, that's all she wrote. But that script flipped this week. They picked up points from a level position after Gashi scored against Sporting Kansas City (when it was 1-1) and they did it again when Badji scored against New York (again, the score was 1-1). This just never happens for the Rapids.
2) Gashi, Jones, Pappa--the Rapids have always had good players, but players that were not necessarily top class players. Gashi, Jones and Pappa are all players that can, and have, changed games. All three players have had massive goals this season and when they are on the pitch, this is a different team. A big challenge will be to keep all three of them healthy and playing when it matter most.
3) The Franchise Seems...Different--the Rapids have never been the most well run franchise in Major League Soccer. They have seemed at times aloof, petulant, clueless, and did not appear to care about their fan base. But something finally seems different. They seem to care about each person as a fan and are actually engaging with people on a variety of social media platforms. This is not how things have been (ask me about my interaction with Jeff Plush one day and Rapids jerseys) run in the past so this is quite refreshing. And if the franchise is changing behind the scenes this much, it is fair to assume that the product on the field is changing as well.
I think my point with all of this is that is is OK to feel pessimism and optimism at the same time. We have seen this franchise overachieve and do wonderful things and we have also seen them self destruct and become an absolute dumpster fire. For many of us, we are still taking a wait and see approach. I am not willing to buy in completely yet as I have been through enough Rapids seasons to know that the way things start are not necessarily the way they end.
So do the Rapids have a chance at the playoffs? Yes. Yes, they do.
So do the Rapids have a chance to go down in flames this season? Yes. Yes, they do.
But this season feels different to me. I have had trouble putting my finger on it until this weekend.
This season has hope. Hope for a positive finish. And honestly, isn't that all I really want