The Colorado Rapids have made it to Orlando and while they are busy preparing for the MLS is Back Tournament, fans are anxiously awaiting that first game on Sunday against Real Salt Lake. Friday morning, the club held a Zoom press conference to give the media an opportunity to check-in with Head Coach Robin Fraser, defender Drew Moor, and midfielder Kellyn Acosta.
Many fans were—and some might still be—nervous about player safety in the bubble, especially as two teams have already been forced out, but Moor said it’s been “good so far.” He admitted “there were some nerves to see what the bubble was actually like. There was a lot of stuff out there, obviously on social media, throughout the first couple weeks that maybe painted a bit of a negative picture, but once we got in the bubble and kind of got into our routine and went through our quarantine period, it’s fine. The food’s good, we feel safe.”
Fraser elaborated later in the conversation, saying “we’ve talked about the importance of, as a group, they [the players] have talked about the importance of having everyone available. That’s not even me driving that—that’s not me telling them that they need to follow these protocols. That’s because this is a really responsible, mature group and they know that one of the factors is we have a really deep team and to give ourselves the best possible chance, we want to make sure that everyone’s available. It’s certainly something we’ve touched upon, but they’ve taken upon themselves and again, it’s just another example of what I really enjoy about this team is that they are very unified and they are very businesslike and they’re certainly willing to do whatever it takes to be prepared.”
Team unity is one of the strengths of this particular squad that Moor talked about as well. “I’ve been around for a long time and I’ve been on some teams where the group is tight and I’ve been on some teams where the group isn’t as tight and this is about as tight as it gets. It’s a nice, I think, kind of distribution of ages, of experience, but we really buy into what we’re trying to do I feel like it’s, it’s a good group off the field. You know, the average age is talked about being a little bit young, but it’s a mature group I feel like.”
Everyone on the team is following the protocols and doing what they can to stay safe, so all of the Rapids players in Orlando are available this weekend. The club isn’t releasing the travel roster, but Matt Hundley (who was previously on loan with Memphis 901 FC) seems to be the only loaned player who has been called into the tournament.
As Fraser mentioned, having a healthy and deep team is very important right now, but they know the group stage will still be a challenge.
“Our group is not gonna be an easy one,” admitted Acosta. “From the league standpoint, you go from the start of the season when there’s three teams that are undefeated and we’re all in the same group.” He explained that all clubs are pretty much in the same spot right now, but the Rapids are playing for the silverware. “We stayed ready so we didn’t have to get ready... I think the game is all about details. And the little details can go a long way. So the team that can execute the little details efficiently as possible will get the result. So for us, we’ve been focusing on that and we’re just trying to fine-tune things at this point, because I mean, in what four days now, a few days now, we have our first game of the tournament, and we want to start it off well.”
Paying attention to the details is especially important since it’s been more than four months since anyone has played a real game.
Fraser knows that many things are unpredictable at this point and the forced break has given teams a chance to reinforce what was working well and revaluate what wasn’t working well at the beginning of the season.
“What we do know about them [Real Salt Lake] is that they have a number of very, very good attacking players. They have guys who are good passers, good finishers, guys who can beat people, guys who are good in the air. The question will be for all of us is how we put this all together and really be able to attack with coordination and precision. Because at the end of the day, the teams that can do that can score consistently,” he said.
From the defensive side, Moor believes that the Rapids have a solid foundation and their goal is to be “difficult to play against.” He said, “when we’re in good defensive shape and we’re difficult to break down, we get a lot of joy going forward the other way. It’s something that we’ve concentrated on since the first day of preseason—being that team that doesn’t open ourselves up, that doesn’t get impatient, and that’s able to have a good defensive foundation. And we did a good job of that through preseason and through the first two games of the season.”
The plan is to carry that into the tournament and take it one game at a time. But the veteran defender was very clear about the upcoming game on Sunday: “Salt Lake is first and we’re going to look to get three points against them.”