After a tough spell earlier in the Summer, the Colorado Rapids have ground out some very positive results since July 4th, with three wins, two draws, and just one defeat since that home loss to Austin FC. This weekend they welcome another formidable Eastern Conference opponent to Commerce City as Columbus come to Colorado looking to spoil that run.
Amidst all the hype around Gyasi Zardes facing his old MLS team, another cool stat is that Rapids Forward Jonathan Lewis scored his first MLS goal against the Ohio club. He’s hoping the renewed confident Burgundy attack will help him make another memory against the Crew.
“I mean, obviously we had the loss against Austin (July 4th), but you could see how well the team played that day. We’re starting to find our stride, have better performances win, lose, or draw,” Lewis told Burgundy Wave earlier this week. “Our performances have been significantly better, and now we’re starting to turn them into wins. Our confidence in the team is a lot higher, and we really believe we can make a run now.”
Not that the players and coaches weren’t confident in their abilities before, but it seems that the Rapids are starting to find their rhythm individually and allowing the game to flow more naturally, rather than playing a bit too tense.
“I think part of it was just form. At the start of the season, some people weren’t clicking; even for myself, I don’t think I was playing well,” Jonathan explains. “A lot of players the second half of the season have started to turn it on, and that’s the biggest thing we’re noticing. Guys are starting to click now; players are taking individual responsibility in their positions and trying to be their best.”
“Everyone is stepping up, playing that much better right now. I think everyone took it in themselves, ‘what do I need to do to be the best that I can be in the position that I’m playing, and now it’s starting to come together more as a team.”
Having that introspective adjustment, and breaking matches down into smaller, winnable parts, is something Lewis and his teammates have used to their advantage as of late. You probably don’t see the Colorado wins and draws coming back from deficits that we’ve seen in the last month without it.
“We’re not looking at the table anymore. It’s just game by game, minute by minute, breaking the game down to segments, trying to win the first 15 (min) the second 15,” Lewis explains of the more focused approach. “We’re not looking at the table anymore but we’re looking at the opponent and knowing every one we step in front of we bring the fight, bring the challenge. We don’t really have room for error anymore if we want to make the playoffs.”
As he’s referred to by Zardes, J-Lew is looking forward to this finishing stretch of the season and really focusing on what he does best – cause problems for defenders! “Eleven games left, my role is just contribute as much as I can in the attacking – being dangerous, goals, assists”, Jonathan says with enthusiasm.
“For me that’s what I want to finish out the season strong. A lot of the guys tell me you’re one of the players who can beat players for fun, so just being able to take the ball and go at players, creating havoc, creating chaos, and ultimately getting results.”
I think that’s the role that some of us attacking players – me, Diego (Rubio), Gyasi (Zardes), Sammy (Nicholson), and Mikey (Barrios) – have taken up now. We need to make sure we’re contributing because that’s what going to get us wins. Defenders are making their priority clean sheets, blocks, tackles, we have to ensure we’re ruthless in the final third.”
In addition to the attacking part of Colorado’s game plan, which will be a bit of an unknown for opponents, is veteran MLS midfielder Felipe Gutierrez brought in on a recent deal for the remainder of 2022. Lewis, for one, is very happy to see his new teammate in action, giving fans an idea of what Felipe will bring to the pitch in this stretch run.
“Everyone knows their role, and from the front line playing one-twos, playing off of each other, and now adding Felipe (Gutierrez) too. He’s one of the best passers of the ball I’ve played with. This guy is dropping dimes for guys. I couldn’t believe the type of space we were getting,” Johnny says with a noticeable excitement in his voice after a few training sessions with Gutierrez involved. “This guy can pick a pass from 80 yds out, so that’s just going to open up a new layer for the attackers.”
“Now, you’re going to see less of Diego needing to drop deep and trying to play make, or myself, Sammy, Mikey running in behind and getting easier goals because he’s a playmaker. The biggest thing with him is as wingers; we don’t even need to dribble as much. We can run in behind because he can really pick a pass. We’ve got to get used to running off the ball more, but he’s very good at creating space to get us the ball in real isolation situations.”
“We’re really going to get faced up 1v1 with center backs, 1v1 with outside backs because he’s so good at switching the ball playing these little intricate passes. I wouldn’t say it takes the pressure off, but it just opens up a new layer for us to score goals.”
All of this is good news for Rapids fans hoping to see their team climb back into a playoff spot to close out the season. There’s no reason Colorado can’t reach that goal with a bit more defensive focus to go with the renewed attacking presence bolstered by new weapons and a renewed confidence going forward.