Colorado Head Coach Robin Fraser said it very bluntly after the 2020 playoff loss in Minnesota to end the season for the Rapids, “We weren’t ready.” He started off 2021 reiterating that, maybe to remind people of where they were starting this season, or to motivate his side, but oh how they look ready now.
“I still feel that’s a game we could’ve won but in terms of being one-nil down early in that game, we got stretched,” Captain Jack Price told Burgundy Wave, looking back at that match. “I think this year, as a team, we’ve been collectively really good, really tight — dense as the gaffer likes to call it — so we’re harder to break down this year.”
“All good championship-winning sides need to have that, as well as the attacking players we have to go and score goals. I just think mentally, the gaffer saying we weren’t ready last year just switched something in our heads to this year we have to be. We have to be switched on, we have to be ready, and we know if we play together as a team we can beat anyone in this league. We have beat most teams in this league so it’s like — it works, the proof is out there!”
So it is, as his Rapids team finished the regular season in first place in the Western Conference. Price knows that the job is not done; however, but the way Colorado has approached this season has prepared them for that next step towards their goal.
“The way the coaching staff have us drilled, the way we line up home or away, we’re hard to beat. It’s not always going to be pretty football and you have to have moments when you dig in, defend well, and we haven’t conceded many goals this year.”
That has been the case for the Rapids, whether they are home at altitude or on the road. Their consistency of form has been a bit remarkable, even taking Price a little bit by surprise. “What has surprised me a bit is our (road) form. It’s not easy traveling most of the time day of the game, flying in the morning, playing the game, flying back… to be honest we’ve done better with that so it doesn’t make sense,” Price says with a shrug and a laugh.
“I think we’ve been fantastic. The teams at top need those points on the road. We’re proud of our record [at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park], but away from home we’ve had that mentality of hard to beat, play good football when you can, if teams let you have the ball express yourselves and enjoy it, but it comes back to that starting point of being dense, putting teams where you want them to be, and just play from there.”
Coach Fraser preaches to his squad the importance of being in control whether they have the ball or not, which is something Captain Jack explains a bit further. “[Fraser] always says, make the team do what you want to do, put the ball where you want them to put it, for example — if we want them to go wide and we can go get pressure and keep it on one side, that’s perfect for us.”
“We’re in control of the game with the ball when we have possession but also the biggest thing is without the ball. We’re putting them in spots we want them to be and they’re not comfortable. That’s why the biggest point for us this year is that. Nine times out of ten, if we let ‘em out there’s a lot of space, but if we don’t and we do it right, and we have done all this season, then we’re hard to play against.”
Colorado has been extremely hard to play against, as evidenced by the highest regular-season point accumulation in club history with 61. One misconception, though, is that with a former defender in Fraser at the helm the Rapids are very defensive-centric, which is just not the case all the time says Price. “My job, the back guys — defend well, keep it tight, keep a clean sheet — it’s not that we just want to be defensive, it’s not that at all. We want to be better in possession and we have been this season, and I feel that’s going to serve us well going into these playoffs.”
“For us defensively, as a team — Will [Yarbrough] the amount of shutouts he has has been brilliant, back 4 or 5 whatever we’ve played have been brilliant — but the front lads have taken it in so well the way we want to keep teams in possession but make them play around us and through us. We have moments where we’re unstoppable at times going forward. We know we have that pace with Johnny [Lewis], Mikey [Barrios], [Dominique] Badji, Diego [Rubio] in holdup play, Andre [Shinyashiki] — all these players.”
“The main thing out of anything home or away now is we have belief that we are a big team, whether the league think we are or not. We know we’re a big team,” says Price bluntly to the nay-sayers. “We should’ve beat Kansas here, we should’ve beat Seattle twice here, and these are teams everyone says are the best in our Conference and we still never get spoken about.“
“To us, that fires our bellies a little bit because we know on our day that we’re better than those teams. We still don’t get the credit we deserve but as long as we keep doing what we’re doing, and we lift MLS Cup at the end of this year, sure they’ll be talking about us then,” he adds.
“I remember this season they all thought our midfield was weak, soft, and we use that every week. I say to the boys in the midfield, ‘win the midfield today, win your battles, get stuck in’ because we’re soft according to the ‘experts.’ That definitely fuels me,” says the fiery Shropshire midfielder.
“We need to all believe, and I think this year we have. The whole squad, 25-plus players, we all believe we can win something this year,” Price admits. “That’s huge. I think that’s the hardest thing is believing you can do it.”