Philosopher and ingenious malaproist, Yogi Berra, would often utter, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” Today, the reigning Western Conference Champions are standing at the foot of their junction, wondering aloud how they arrived there in 10th place during what was to be a promising 2023 season for the team, Front Office, and fans alike.
The Colorado Rapids have been plagued with inconsistent finishing, costly lapses in focus, here-and-there injuries, and, yes, unlucky match-day calls against them. With 12 games on the horizon and plenty of competitive football still in them, everyone hopes that the organization will stride down the right footpath, none more so than on-the-mend Jack Price.
Captain Price desperately wants to see the field players resuscitate this perplexing season, then march into the October playoffs with both conviction and moxie.
If there is one team in the Western Conference that can pull a jackrabbit out of a cowboy’s hat, it is the Rapids. One must remember that divine intervention struck during the Club’s 2010 MLS Championship season. They finished 7th overall in the league, gelled into a cohesive team in the playoffs, and ultimately won the Cup, plus an invitation to play around Barack Obama’s White House South Lawn.
Rapids fans have not seen much of Price this year. He has been on and off the pitch dealing with injuries. Price has played in 13 games and clocked in 944 minutes. In late April, he came up lame during the team’s match with Charlotte FC. He recuperated sufficiently to play in Week 13’s match against LAFC. Price led the Rapids in touches taken, accurate passes, crosses and earned team of the Week honors. He again went down on June 19th against New York City FC in Yankee Stadium.
Since then, he has been present at training sessions, often working on the sidelines to maintain his fitness, all while his injury heals.
Price has had plenty on his mind between his own admitted slow start and wellness and feelings of frustration with the team’s performance. The affable midfielder spoke at length with the Burgundy Wave about the season-to-date and his outlook. Price made several salient points about the differences between this season and last year’s campaign, what needs to change, and so promptly.
“Personally, I haven’t been consistent- not playing to the level I know I can. My hamstring has been struggling. I have been using this time to heal a bit. It is frustrating. It has been my most interrupted season in terms of stop-start. I want to train every day and play in every game. So I need to get to 100% healthy before I can be my best. I can get through it (the injury), but when I come off, I feel I haven’t played my best.”
When he has missed games with the first team, Price has been with the Rapids 2 team, where he has played minutes and got in his reps. He has benefited from the outings with the junior players. “That is the most important thing, especially for the coaching staff, so everyone is ready, and when you are ready to step up and match ready.”
Price said the team needs to get its confidence back. “We don’t look as confident in some games, and for whatever reason, I don’t know what it is. I think of us last year- some of the games we did not play great, but we had that togetherness, and we grinded out results. Games that come to mind- San Jose away, Houston away. Winning 1-nil, late. They weren’t the prettiest. But we got the result, and that is why we ended up where we ended up (in the playoffs.).”
Price elaborated, “I feel we haven’t been as together this year as last year when we won the Conference championship. Maybe it has been different this year. There has been a bit of a turnaround again in terms of players going and coming in. It is tough. Then the different languages- sometimes it is hard just to get a message across.” In terms of team cohesiveness, he said it is getting there.
The team certainly has quality pieces; however, execution has sometimes been rate limiting. The coaching staff effectively prepares the team before every match. The perplexing question in their minds is, when the team arrives to the venue, will the team flip the switch and engage their opponents throughout the contest?
Fans witnessed their recent dreadful start against the Red Bulls. Luckily God intervened, and they overcame their early lapse and rallied back to win the game. Hopefully, they can build on the result and keep up that can-do confidence.
Price perked up when he reflected on the LAFC and Seattle games at DICK’s Sporting Good Park. ”What the gaffer wants to see more is concentration, consistency, and unity like when we played Seattle home, LA at home. We stayed engaged for 90 minutes, start-to-finish. And we got the results. We were in the moment.”
Conversely, he recalled the Dallas away match early in the season. “We lost 3-1, and we probably were in control for 70-75 minutes. We were engaged, then lapsed, and conceded three goals when we were not in the moment.”
The Rapids demonstrated unwavering togetherness, concentration, and grit last year. They played for each other. The question is, can they build and leverage unity during the dog days of August and September, and so, with the addition of newcomers- Felipe Gutierrez, Ralph Priso-Mbongue, Sam Nicholson, Gustavo Vallecilla, and Gyasi Zardes? It is fair to say that the team has been pressing to come together, understand their respective tendencies, and in certain moments, playing with harmony from the front through the back, both defense and offense.
“We really need to get back to the basics. Play for each other. We have the quality,” Price said. ”We don’t have a DP that we can just rely on. We have to do it together as an XI. It is not about one person. Even the bench has to be ready to come on. Last year we did that. They knew their jobs; they did their jobs. We haven’t been doing our job this year, including myself- I need to be a leader, a captain, and an example for the team, and I just haven’t this year.”
Price believes the team does not need to score four or five goals per game. That has been a pattern when they dig a hole early and then have to outscore their foes. He said the team can win by scoring one or two goals, then sit back and settle the game. ”The good teams do that,” Price remarked.
Price continued, ”Last season, it was a great place to come to train, as well as work, have fun, and be serious. We need to get back to that, in the changing room and amongst each other. We need to have that spirit and have some fun, mate Play with a smiley face. It is all doom and gloom when we lose, which I get that... I don’t like to lose. But there is no need to dwell on that. We need to look forward to what we can achieve. And that is the main message really from me.”
Assistant coach Wolde Harris sees it this way. “For us going forward, is to be consistent both in on both sides of the ball, defensively get dense- meaning that teams can’t play through us, and they can’t play over us. They have to play around us.” He continued, “In terms of attacking, we need to make sure that we’re doing the things that we need to do to get behind the back line of the opposition, then get numbers in the box. So we just want to be consistent with that going forward.”
The team’s upcoming schedule is nothing to sneeze at. Minnesota, Columbus, Vancouver, Houston, Philadelphia, and Nashville, just in the month of August. Start-to-finish concentration, engagement, and execution will need to be paramount going forward. With all the parity in the Western Conference, there is no room for not even a hiccup.
Whether it is a matter of Diego Rubio needing to nip at the heals of his teammates or mellow Price pulling aside a few mates and having a stern come to Jesus conversation about what has to change, the time has come for the Rapids’ field players to saddle up and make their move.
Together they stand at the fork of their road. Which path will they take? Only God knows. One thing is certain; their fan base wants to see that togetherness again and ride with them into post-season play. Play on Burgundy Boys.