Now that the midpoint of the MLS season has come and gone, it’s time to look at how the rest of the season will pan out for the Colorado Rapids. I wrote my 2019 Season Preview up to 17 games into the season. Upon reflection, I was excited and hopeful that this team had what it took to be a mid-table MLS side. I’ll admit, I was so optimistic that I was convinced Anthony Hudson was the right man to lead the Rapids to a playoff berth. Instead, Colorado went on to have two months without winning and averaged one point a month for a total of two points after 13 games.
The biggest turning point of the season came when the Rapids Front Office dismissed head coach Anthony Hudson on May 1st 2019. He had only won a total of 8 league games since being hired in November of 2017. After the firing of Hudson, Conor Casey was tasked with the position of interim head coach to right the course of what had been a terrible start to the season. Under Anthony Hudson, the Colorado Rapids went 0-7-2 and under Conor Casey they went 5-2-2 for a combined total of 5-9-4.
The Rapids find themselves in 11th place just 6 points out of a playoff spot in the Western Conference. My season preview had dubbed 2019 as a throwaway season and to some extent it still is. It’s hard to find it in myself to believe that the Rapids could possibly turn it around and become a playoff contender. However, they probably can. This weird balance of skepticism and optimism has overall clouded any clear prediction as to whether or not the Rapids can actually make a playoff appearance this year. So, this Rest of Season preview will attempt to see both sides and make the case for the optimists and the skeptics: How the Rapids could still make the playoffs and why they ultimately won’t.
The Rapids needed to have a better start than the one they had. Colorado has just 7 home games out of 16 remaining matches in the second half of the season:
- New England Revolution
- @ Portland Timbers
- New York City F.C.
- @ San Jose Earthquakes
- Montreal Impact
- San Jose Earthquakes
- @ Minnesota United
- @ Houston Dynamo
- @ Real Salt Lake
- @ New York Red Bulls
- Seattle Sounders
- LA Galaxy
- @ Toronto FC
- @ Sporting Kansas City
- FC Dallas
- @ Los Angeles Football Club
This is a mountain of a schedule for the Rapids to climb as the Rapids will have to become road warriors and get as many draws and wins playing away from home as they can. The first thing that should jump out is the club’s four consecutive away games
So, can they do it?
The Colorado Rapids managed to beat LAFC without Jonathan Lewis or Sam Nicholson, their two, arguably, most dynamic wingers in Casey’s new system. So who’s to say when those two players are back in the lineup that they wont tear the league up? Now that the issues in the back line have seemingly been cured by Lalas Abubakar, the team will seemingly be able to play the way that Casey wants them to. The 7 league-game unbeaten streak has shown just how resilient this Rapids team can be. Also, with the secondary transfer window opening up, who’s to say that a few new additions wouldn’t be possible. While it’s highly unlikely, there’s always the hope that the higher ups at KSE finally open their wallets and get that third Designated Player. Or, maybe Gashi is signed by a foreign club and subsequently drops off the books. In 2016, the Seattle Sounders had a horrific start to the season and it wasn’t until summer signing Nicolas Lodeiro turned the team around by himself. The optimist in me sees this team moving some pieces around in order to get that type of player. The mid-season hiring of Brian Schmetzer also shows plenty of parallels to the mid-season interim appointment of Conor Casey. Another reason to be optimistic is the league in which the Burgundy Boys play in allows for teams to have terrible starts. Because there is so much parity and because MLS is structured to be more akin to a marathon than a race, the Rapids could very well find themselves at just the right pace to sneak into the playoffs for a chance to compete for silverware.
The mountain in front of the Rapids is a really hard one to climb. Ultimately, a playoff berth will be dependent on two things: Colorado’s home form and the away game stretch in August. What was really concerning was the team’s inability to win the first 9 games of the season in what needed to be a hot start. The second half of the season was always going to be this difficult due to the limited amount of home games. As of July 1st, the Rapids’ chance at making the playoffs is 6%. Years of being a Rapids supporter have sort of conditioned most to be skeptical about the situation anyway. Do fans really believe that this team can win every home game from here on out?
One can make the argument that if the team was able to beat LAFC we could realistically beat anyone else in the league. The two biggest challengers that face the Rapids at home are the Seattle Sounders and the San Jose Earthquakes. Historically, the Rapids have always struggled against Seattle and the new look Earthquakes are playing some of the best soccer in MLS. Those, to me, are teams the Rapids need to kill off at home to be a playoff contender.
There’s also the ever looming fear of injuries. Kei Kamara continues to be the best Rapids player this year, an injury to him would instantly crush any chance at the playoffs. The same could be said for Lalas Abubakar if he were to go down. The depth for the Rapids is there, but just how strong the depth is will be tested if injuries occur.
Ultimately, it is somewhat of a cop-out to say that the Rapids will and won’t make the playoffs. I am a pragmatic person in many aspects of my life. However, when it comes to the Rapids, all sensibility and reasoning goes out the window.
When it comes to the Rapids, I choose to be irrational and hopeful. Anyone that’s been to a Real Salt Lake away game will share this same sentiment. You go to that away game with the slight hope that maybe, just maybe, the Rapids could pull this off. You go in thinking that this year will be different; this year you’ll be leaving Rio Tinto cheering and smiling. Just like believing the Rapids will win in Rio Tinto this year, I believe the Colorado Rapids will make the 2019 MLS Playoffs. August will be the biggest month for the club this season and if they can get through that month with at least 12 of a possible 18 points, this team is making the playoffs. You can bookmark this, and come back to this in a couple months and either make fun of me or praise the Rapids prophet! 😉