Well, here we are. We all know the reality of the season. The Colorado Rapids aren’t making the playoffs. Just to get to the average number of points for the 7th placed team in a 34 game season (~43) we have to play the rest of the year at 1.708 pts/game. That’s better than we played the whole 2016 season. Needless to say, that’s not happening.
Given that, what should the Rapids do with the rest of the year?
Become the next 2013 D.C. United. For those of you unfamiliar with the infamous 2013 D.C. team, they started the season losing 8 of their first 10 games and went 13 in a row without a win in their first 15 games. Sound familiar? They ended that season with an all-time league record low 16 points and a 3-7-24 record. The other thing they did that year? Won the U.S. Open Cup. That’s right, the worst team in MLS (maybe ever) won the U.S. Open Cup.
You’re probably saying “Yeah, but they only had to play one MLS team to do it, right”. No, they actually only faced one lower league team and that’s the team that came the closest to beating them. In the third round, they played the Richmond Kickers and had to go PKs to move on. After that, they toppled Philly, New England, and Chicago by two goals each before beating RSL 1-0 in the final. In the same period that they were beating four out of four MLS teams in Cup play, they beat two out of 18 MLS teams in league play (they also had four draws).
The Rapids should attempt to repeat the feat. As detailed above, there is nothing to be gained by focusing on league games (one caveat, see below). Win, draw, loss, the only thing that matters in league play is figuring out what, if anything, is salvageable from this roster.
Instead, the team should announce, or at least make it known in interviews and such, that their focus is now fully on the Open Cup. It will give the fans something to look forward to and for a club that has, historically, not taken the Open Cup seriously, it would be a nice change. By focus on the competition I mean planning to play the best XI in every Open Cup game, even if it means sacrificing the league games on either side of the Cup matches. That might mean resting Kei Kamara for a league match three days after a Cup game. Or taking Kellyn Acosta out in a game we’re losing so he’s not too tired for the Cup match on the upcoming Wednesday.
The first round of the Open Cup happens this week and the Rapids will enter in Round 4, on or around June 12th where they’re likely to face an MLS team with the updated format. The next rounds take place June 18-23rd, July 10th, August 7th, and the final is on August 27th or 28th. That could mean sacrificing up to six MLS games on either side of those dates.
The one caveat I mentioned above is the two league matches against Real Salt Lake where the Rocky Mountain Cup is on the line. The Cup may not mean much to many of the non-homegrown players, but it means a lot to the fans. Seeing us really fight for that would be a thin silver lining on a dismal season. The first of those matches is Saturday, and the result there and in the Open Cup will go a long way to deciding how we handle the second match against FSL, as it’s scheduled for the weekend before the USOC final.
If, somehow, we get a favorable result this weekend and we’re in the Open Cup final we can discuss then how we should prioritize those back-to-back matches on short rest, but let’s just focus on getting into that scenario first.