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Know your Rapids history: 1996-2006

Everything you need to know about the early years of the Colorado Rapids.

Wiz V Rapids
Kansas City Wizards vs. Colorado Rapids

Whether you’re a total newbie to the Colorado Rapids (welcome!), you want to brush up on your team history, or you’re somewhere in between, this is for you. This first article in the series covers the first 10 years of the team, back when they played at Mile High. We’ve got you covered for where they played, highlights (aka what you need to know about what happened), coaches, fan favorites, and Gallery of Honor inductees. So the next time you’re hanging out at a tailgate before a game, you won’t have to just smile and nod like you know what everyone else is talking about.

1996 – 2006

Stadiums

Old Mile High Stadium (1996 – 2001) and Invesco Field at Mile High (2002 – 2006)

Kits

White kit with green trim, sponsored by Puma and Kappa (1996 - 2002) and black kit with blue vertical stripes, sponsored by Atletica (2003 - 2006).

The Beginning

As one of the original 10 MLS franchises to begin in 1996, the Colorado Rapids played their first match that year on April 13, in a 3-0 loss at the Kansas City Wizards. For its inaugural campaign the team brought in a solid group of players, including some international stars and a veteran coaching staff.

Under Head Coach Bobby Houghton, the Rapids boasted a strong roster that included Marcelo Balboa and established players like Shaun Bartlett and goalkeeper Chris Woods. US Men’s National Team players Chris Henderson, Dominic Kinnear, Steve Trittschuh and Roy Wegerle also were on the roster yet the team ended their first season in dead last overall and missed the playoffs with a record of 11-21.

At that time, eight of the league’s 10 total teams made the playoffs. After just one season, Coach Houghton was out of a job.

First MLS Cup Final

In 1997 the Rapids struggled to a 14-18 record under new head coach Glenn “Mooch” Myernick. They did, however, finish fourth in the West and were rewarded with a playoff match up against the #1 seed, Kansas City Wizards.

After finishing last overall in the 1996 inaugural MLS season, this was the club’s first trip to the Western Conference semi-finals. On October 4, 1997 they traveled to Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City where a crowd of 10,174 witnessed a first-leg upset to the tune of 3-0 Rapids (goals from Chris Henderson, Paul Bravo, and Ross Paule).

When they returned to Denver, a crowd of 13,117 came out on October 8th to see Colorado totally dispatch the Wizards in a 3-2 win (6-2 aggregate) with two goals from Bravo and one from Wolde Harris. Colorado was on to the Western Conference Finals for the first time.

Facing the #3 seed, Dallas Burn, the Rapids would play another first-leg match on the road at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas. With a 42nd-minute goal from Rapids legend and Gallery of Honor member, Chris Henderson, the team grabbed the crucial away win and headed back to Denver with the advantage. In front of (at the time) a huge crowd of 18,452, the team got goals from forward David Patino and Henderson in a 2-1 win (3-1 aggregate) that sent the club to their first MLS Cup.

The 1997 MLS Cup was held on October 26 at RFK Memorial Stadium in front of a sell-out crowd of 57,431. Being the game was against DC United, the Supporters’ Shield winners and Eastern Conference #1 seed, it was essentially a home game in the nation’s capital. Add in the fact that United were defending champions of the inaugural Cup and it was dumping rain - the Rapids were clear underdogs.

In the 37th minute, United went ahead through Jaime Moreno, the Cup MVP and league leader in scoring that year with 16 goals. After assisting on the first goal, former US Soccer World Cup veteran Tony Sannah sent the crowd into delirium when he scored off a header in the 68th minute off a cross from John Harkes, another US World Cup veteran.

Colorado would not give up as David Patino slipped in substitute Adrian Paz who buried one into the side net from a tight angle to cut the deficit in the 75th minute. Bringing on Ross Paule for Steve Henderson in the 81st minute, the team pushed for the equalizer... but it was not meant to be as the trophy remained with United.

Club Highlights after ‘97 Cup

1998 (16-16-0) – Participated in qualifying round of CONCACAF Champions League due to being ’97 MLS Cup finalist. Wolde Harris sets team record with 13 goals, and Bravo and Paule each scored ten goals.

1999 (20-12-0) – Jorge Dely Valdes joined the team, along with Swedish midfielder Anders Limpar. This squad earned 20 wins, the most in club history, but this was also when MLS had no ties and used run-up penalty kicks to decide draws. The team lost to the Rochester Raging Rhinos in the US Open Cup Final (deepest Open Cup run in club history).

2000 (13-15-4) – Junior Agogo was brought in to replace the departed Wolde Harris. Marcelo Balboa’s famous bicycle kick happened and earned him MLS Goal of the Year. Head coach Myernick was fired during offseason.

2001 (5-13-8) – Tim Hankinson became head coach and John Spencer, Carlos Valderrama, Chris Henderson, Chris Carrieri, Raul Diaz Arce, and Joe Cannon joined the club. Spencer finished third in league with 14 goals. Gallery of Honor member Paul Bravo retired. Final season played at old Mile High Stadium.

2002 (13-11-4) – Moved to Invesco Field at Mile High. Traded for Mark Chung (11 goals). In Carlos Valderrama’s final season ever he recorded a team-record 16 assists. Acquired Pablo Mastroeni and Kyle Beckerman from the defunct Miami Fusion FC. Finished first in home attendance with average over 20,000 per game.

2003 (11-12-7) – Club changed identity to black kit with blue vertical stripes. Sponsor changed from Kappa to Atletica. John Spencer set team record with 14 goals, Chung and Spencer named to MLS Best XI.

2004 (10-9-11) – Kroenke Sports Enterprises (KSE) purchases the club and Coach Hankinson is out after season. MLS Goalkeeper of the Year Joe Cannon and new players such as Mike Petke, Jeff Cunningham, Terry Cooke and David “Dedi” Ben Dayan (Israel) brought steady improvement.

2005 (13-13-6) – Fernando Clavijo (1994 US World Cup player) was appointed head coach. The Rapids were crowned champions of the inaugural Rocky Mountain Cup, and had their first trip to the Western Conference Final since 1997 (loss 2-0 to eventual champion LA Galaxy).

2006 (11-13-8) – Final season in black and blue kit. For the second consecutive season they reached the Western Conference Final but lost 3-1 to eventual champions Houston Dynamo. Won the Rocky Mountain Cup for second year in a row.

***

Colorado Rapids Head Coaches from 1996 - 2006

1996: Bob Houghton

1996 (interim): Roy Wegerle

1997 – 2000: Glenn Myernick

Dec. 2000 – Dec. 2004: Tim Hankinson

Dec. 2004 – Aug. 2008: Fernando Clavijo

Nov. 2008 – Nov. 2011: Gary Smith

Jan. 2012 – Jan. 2014: Oscar Pareja

March 2014 – present: Pablo Mastroeni

Fan Favorites

Glenn “Mooch” Myernick – Rapids second ever head coach (1997-2000) and former US Men’s Assistant Coach (under Bruce Arena 2002-2006). Mooch was elected to the US National Soccer Hall of Fame in 2015 and will always be remembered in the soccer community.

Paul Bravo - Most recently was the club’s Technical Director from 2009-2016. Scored 39 league goals from 1997-2001 (second ever to Conor Casey’s 50 league goals). Member of the Rapids ‘Gallery of Honor.’

Wolde Harris - Played with the club from 1997-1999 and again in 2005. Harris is sixth in club history with 27 goals scored (13 scored in 1998). Harris had 28 caps and 7 goals for Jamaica and he brought that Reggae Boyz spirit to the pitch, making him a fan favorite in Denver. He is now the Assistant Coach for the Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC.

Jean Philippe Peguero - Still currently playing in his local country of Haiti, Peguero was the man who seemed to always come up with a header goal from a corner kick. He scored 14 league goals in his two seasons with the club and helped fill up some seats when the team was playing at Invesco Field.

Marcelo Balboa – Colorado soccer community legend, Rapids legend, and US Soccer legend. Played in the 1994 and 1998 US World Cups. Still heavily involved with the Rapids in youth coaching and broadcasting. Scored the MLS Goal of the Year in 2000 on the famous bicycle kick from the top of the 18-yard box (possibly the best goal scored in MLS history). In 2005, was named to MLS All-Time Best XI and also to the National Soccer Hall of Fame. We could go on and on about this guy...

Chris Henderson - Played right wing for the club from 1996-1998 and 2002-2005. Henderson earned 79 caps for the USMNT and was on the roster for the 1990 World Cup. He is near the top of nearly every offensive stat in Rapids history: 53 assists (first), 178 games played (third), 14,784 minutes played (third), 151 shots on goal (first), 31 league goals (fifth), etc, etc. He is currently the Sporting Director for the Seattle Sounders.

John Spencer - Most recently served as an Assistant Coach last season. Scored 37 league goals from 2001-2004 (fourth). A feisty striker with a Scottish attitude made for a fun watch for fans. Played for teams such as Chelsea, Everton and the Scotland National Team (14 caps). He is currently an Assistant Coach for the San Jose Earthquakes.

Carlos Valderrama - Carlos is alongside Balboa as the two most prominent players to wear a Rapids jersey. Possibly the best player in Colombia’s history (1990, ‘94, and ‘98 World Cup captain, 111 caps), Valderrama played two seasons with the Rapids and tallied 19 assists in just 39 games (16 assists in 2002 are still a club record). He was named to the MLS All-Time Best XI after totaling 114 assists with Tampa Bay, Miami, and Colorado.

Pablo Mastroeni - Current Head Coach of the club and all-time leader with 225 games played and 18,669 minutes. He played for the USMNT 65 times, including the 2002 and 2006 World Cups. If there was an all-time “Club Captain” honor it would go to Pablo. We love him, just not that ‘stache.

Mark Chung - I’m going to say what everyone is thinking: the best left foot in Rapids history goes to Chung. Playing 93 games from 2002-2005, he racked up 27 league goals and was so silky smooth.

Gallery of Honor Inductees from 1996 - 2006

Marcelo Balboa (inducted 2003)

Paul Bravo (inducted 2003)

Read more about the Gallery of Honor inductees here.

Were you a Rapids fan during this time period? What’s your favorite memory?