The 2020 season was an odd one to say the least. It was Robin Fraser’s first full season as head coach of the Colorado Rapids and several new players were looking to prove themselves, including Nicolas Benezet. Nico followed head coach Robin Fraser from Toronto and was expecting to become a regular force as a creative midfielder/winger for Colorado. But a stray arm broke his nose in preseason, setting him back weeks even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
“That was the worst season I’d ever seen. Last year was so weird because I broke my nose and I couldn’t be ready to start the season,” said the Frenchman.
“After the second game I was supposed to play when everything shut down,” he continued. “It was in Vancouver and three days before they say to us we aren’t going to play anymore. We stopped training for two months and a half, so I think last year we did three pre-seasons!”
This season, however, is a fresh start for everyone, but Benezet is especially looking forward to a more “normal” start and progression into 2021’s MLS run. “Football players need to be ready for a long season, especially this one,” Benezet told Burgundy Wave. “Everybody was angry about the [playoff] defeat last year. After five weeks [of preseason], we’ll be ready to start.”
Colorado returns one of the most experienced squads in the league when comparing MLS minutes played. The 30-year-old hopes that familiarity and knowledge with teammates will give the Rapids an advantage out of the gate. “Right now, we’re used to playing together. I don’t know if it will be an advantage, but we know how Robin wants to play, and for us, we already know how we want to play.”
That process began a few weeks ago back home in Commerce City and is developing during the preseason training camp in Tucson, Arizona. Benezet’s process began back in Europe while at home in France with family and friends during the offseason for some much-needed “normalcy.”
“We got almost two months and a half off so it was too long and I had to do some things either by myself or with friends. I run, I play football, I couldn’t stay without doing anything. I run a lot though because I didn’t want to get any injuries in games with my friends,” he explained.
As with any preseason training, the first few weeks are all about regaining base fitness at a professional footballer level, and hoping to get additional help from a similar altitude as Colorado, the Rapids have been busy doing just that with double-training days.
Benezet explained that on a typical day, “I wake up at 8-8:30 and we go to the [COVID-19] tests... after that, we have meetings with the coaches, then at 9:30 we leave to the training stadium, before starting training with some runs and stretching at 10.”
“After training, we get back to the hotel and eat, then the second training is at 4 p.m. After the second training, we get back to the hotel at 6, we eat, and after that, we can do anything. I used to play video games with my French friends, I sometimes go to the hot tub, but that’s it. The young players can do whatever they want, but I turned 30 one month ago so I can’t be like them. After lunch, I go back to my room to take care of my body, that’s it,” cracked Benezet.
Colorado has had a successful start to their minutes against outside competition beginning with a 2-0 win over Portland in a 45-minute stint. Benezet started that session on the wing and was happy with the play of the Rapids within their system early on.
“We played well against Portland. I played on the left as a winger. It was a good shape for us. To be honest, we played well. I used to play on the left since I turned 18 so this is my favorite position. There are a lot of new, young players and they are working out with a good mentality,” he said.
In 2020, the Burgundy Boys earned their first playoff berth since 2016, based on points per game. As coaches and players alike have admitted since the end of their campaign, there is much room for improvement. No one is satisfied with merely making the postseason — it’s time for the next step.
“We need to be more efficient when we are playing the good teams,” explained Benezet when asked in what ways Colorado needs to be better. “If we want to be one of the best teams in the league we have to win against the big teams — Seattle, Los Angeles — we have to be more efficient to win against these kinds of teams.”
“We don’t have to be more focused because we already are for every game. It’s different when you play against the big teams because the motivation increases, but we have to get the same motivation against the teams behind us.”
The French League veteran wasn’t satisfied with his own production last year, having not tallied a goal or assist in a season for the first time ever, and admitted humbly but bluntly, ”I have to score more goals than I did last year, which it won’t be tough because I didn’t score. I have to be more efficient myself because it’s never happened since I’ve become a professional player.”
Benezet acknowledges that the Rapids scoring success in 2021 could hinge on him routinely linking with the forwards and interchanging with midfielders like Younes Namli and Kellyn Acosta. “I have to score, I have to get more assists, and even if I don’t, I have to be more efficient in games for the team. If I get more minutes, for sure I will get more chances. For the confidence, it needs to be more consistent. That’s why I think this year will be easier for me to be involved for the wins.”