Season Review

Reflections on 2019 Through the Lens of MLS’s Teams of the Week

With the CONCACAF Champions League officially underway and the Rapids on the cusp of Major League Soccer’s 25th Season, it seems like a perfect opportunity to wave one last goodbye to the 2019 Rapids season which left all of us supporters wanting more.

After I sent an interesting #AskHTHL to Rabbi and Red’s podcast Holding the High Line about how MLS’s Team of the Week (TOTW) coaches are selected, I felt I needed to do a deep dive into the Colorado Rapids presence in the league’s TOTW picks for the 2019 season. The TOTW doesn’t hold any stock in the standings or make any difference to a team’s expected performance. Quite simply, the TOTW reflects how well a given player did in the game. Although a good team enables a better individual presence in the weekly line-up – as you will see on the following timeline – even losses and draws can see a player called up to the pundits’ best lineups from that week’s games. 

What I found was an enjoyable – if not traumatizing early on – trip down memory lane. Rehashing some of the Rapids best individual performances in detail and facing the demons of the early season form which all but sealed their playoff fate was cathartic and one I feel you too will reminisce upon fondly. 

Before the nitty-gritty, some analysis of my findings: the Rapids had thirteen players represented throughout the season, with twenty-seven total appearances, and thirteen of those on the bench (a consolation prize for almost-good-enough performances). Kei Kamara found the list five times of those twenty-seven total honors. While he earned some accolations for his goalscoring, others were awarded for his wonderful work coming back on defense and his eye for threatening passes. Keegan Rosenberry earned 3 call-ups for absolutely stellar play at right back, consistency, and several game winning assists. 

In answer to the question of Coach of the Week, a Colorado manager has never been awarded the honor since the league began considering one as part of the TOTW in 2017. This trend is disturbing, but it is one which I sincerely believe Robin Fraser will change in 2020. Though he might need to bribe the folks in the MLS Manhattan office to get there.

Is MLS’s Team of the Week a click-bait, gimmicky, popularity contest? To an extent. Is it a true measure of a players skill in the week prior? Maybe. Is it a fun way to nerd out over the league we all love? Definitely. Whatever your opinion, I hope you enjoy this labor of love I spent way too much time obsessing over. Up the ‘Pids and may Robin Fraser make the cut!

Player Appearances

Total Player Appearances: Kamara 5; Rosenberry 3; Shinyashiki 2: Rubio 2: Howard 2; Abubakar 2; Vines 2; Lewis 2; Smith 2; Feilhaber 2; Bassett 1; Nicholson 1; Price 1

Week 1: Colorado Rapids 3-3 Portland Timbers
Power Ranking: 17
TOTW: Feilhaber, Howard (Starting 11)

Snow Classico III: one of those memorable home openers that gives the die-hards a glossy look in their eyes and a 10,000-mile stare. “There was frozen beer everywhere,” they’ll tell you, “It was terrific!”

Supporters moved into the new season hopeful but restrained, excited to see the new big names and a star rookie signing take to the pitch. It wouldn’t be long until we all cried out for Anthony Hudson’s dismal after a dismal start to the season. But hark! This game was exciting, refreshing, and very cold!

Benny Feilhaber and Tim Howard got a starting call-up on MLS’s TOTW, much encouraging to fans paying attention to the midweek punditry. Howard had plenty of work to do as he was buffeted not only by the frigid winds, but also 24 shots by the Timbers. He made a half-dozen saves and made several great recoveries even though three orange balls got by him. The overall-solid night was deemed worthy of inclusion in the TOTW.

Benny must have wanted to keep the motor running to stay warm that night as he put in plenty of work at both ends of the pitch. He was on corner kick duty but wouldn’t give Jack Price a run for the role as the season progressed (all hail King Jacko!). Benny’s passing was solid and he scored a goal bracketed by a smattering of shots. It was one of those sloppy goals where the defenders are slipping and the ball ends up ricocheting back to the goalscorer after the first take to eventually find the back of the net. Of course, this was before the supporters’ disillusionment and Benny’s eventual turn-coating sent us reeling. 

Week 6: Orlando City S.C. 4-3 Colorado Rapids
Power Ranking: 23
TOTW: Cole Bassett (Bench)

The Rapids still haven’t beat the Lions at Orlando City Stadium and boast a dismal overall record against the purple team of 1-1-4. I predict a Rapids win at the home opener on March 7 and six points out of a possible twelve in the first four games, though that’s neither here nor there.

In any case, our lad Cole Bassett lofted a lovely cross to super-sub Nicolas Mezquida, who drew the Rapids even in the 61st minute. Cole would score ten minutes later, giving the Rapids a promising 3-2 lead with a wonderful cut back in the box, slamming the ball home with surprising composure from the young development academy product. Aside from those contributions, he had a well-rounded performance. Bassett looked like a player that could anticipate the attack and can seek out those line breaking passes. 

Maybe Cole got a spot on the TOTW bench because of his strong showing as a youth prospect (“Play the youth” was a hot-button phrase in 2019) or perhaps his skill truly shined that night. Unfortunately, the team dropped what should have been three points by coughing up two late goals, symptomatic of Colorado under Anthony Hudson in the first third of the season. 

Week 7: Colorado Rapids 2-3 D.C. United
Power Ranking: 23
TOTW: Feilhaber (Bench)

Oh, Benny, the ignominious. The enigmatic. The charismatic… The mustachioed! How’d SKC treat ya? Still feeling good about jumping ship? Oh well, you scored a goal, and assisted Kei on his 116th, and made TOTW bench. He had a productive night and got the TOTW spotlight. Was it just name recognition, or well earned? Objectively, he did have a solid night if you look at the boxscore and forget the result. Otherwise, I don’t have the desire to dig deeply into this loss at home to the Black and Red or spare much thought to Benny.

Week 12: L.A. Galaxy 0-1 Colorado Rapids
Power Ranking: 23
TOTW: Lewis (Bench)

The first Rapids win of the Season! And what a hard fought battle it was, with both teams making goal line clearances and plenty of big chances left wanting. I was listening to this game at work and the pure elation and release of anxiety when Andre Shinyashiki cleaned-up after Kamara’s deflected shot left me screaming and jumping in solidarity with all of the Rapids family, much to the surprise of a few unassuming customers perusing the very fine wares of the store. 

Jonathan Lewis earned a bench spot for his performance for being a work horse on the right side of the pitch. He had a few solid shots at goal, 4 key passes, a bunch of lovely passing in the buildup, and he was great at recovering balls from broken down Galaxy attack’s. Perhaps if this weren’t the first win of the season for Colorado, another player or two would have gotten the call-up. Keegan Rosenberry had himself a night as well, not to mention Tim Howard’s multiple saves and clean sheet.

Week 13: Colorado Rapids 3-2 Columbus Crew S.C.
Power Ranking: 21
TOTW: Nicholson (Starting 11)

It’s always nice to beat the yellow team, especially when it’s not the referees, but rather fellow ninety-sixer, Columbus Crew. This was the second win of the season and first back-to-back win since August 2018. It would be Sam Nicholson’s only call-up to the TOTW, but what a well-deserved call-up it was as Sam worked the right side of the pitch masterfully. He put the team treatment on his performance by making several interceptions, completing some great passes in midfield. He demonstrated the lovely dribbling the Scotsman has become loved for, and had three key passes in the box. Of course, Sam doesn’t always have a nose for goal – his two shots on the night weren’t quite threatening enough to pressure the keeper – but he did assist Rookie of the Year Andre Shinyashiki in the game’s opening goal.

Nicholson wouldn’t want us to put his TOTW honors ahead of this magnificent Mezquida game winner and the classic, shirt ripping, yellow card inducing, dogpile celebration that followed.

Week 14: Colorado Rapids 3-1 F.C. Cincinnati
Power Ranking: 21
TOTW: Shinyashiki (Starting 11)

Andre Shinyashiki is the 2019 Rookie of the Year – have you heard? He probably deserves his own supporter song. The Rapids came alive vs. expansion side F.C. Cincinnati. Shinyashiki was an absolute operator on the left wing, scored the opening goal, and dribbled past his man on several occasions. He passed the ball with great accuracy, notching 3 key passes and a host of other great crosses across the front of goal. This was Andre’s first-ever appearance in the starting 11 for TOTW and his traction only grew from here, catching the eyes of all MLS talking heads. 

Week 15: Colorado Rapids 1-0 Minnesota United F.C.
Power Ranking: 19
TOTW: Abubakar, Howard, Kamara (Starting 11); Price (Bench)

In many ways, the 1-0 victory at home against Minnesota United signified a turnaround for the Burgundy and Blue. The win not only brought Colorado off of the bottom of the Western Conference, but Kei snapped a 5 game scoring drought, earning himself a start on TotW alongside Lalas Abubakar and Tim Howard.

Tim was in top form, with ten clearances, two saves, a punch away, and -most excitingly – a clean sheet. Howard’s leadership from the back was a solidifying force for the Rapids, despite the ups and downs of his reign between the posts. In this game, that intangible leadership skill certainly helped lift up an emergent Rapids to a W.

Lalas Abubakar didn’t wait long to display his value in burgundy, as his stout defense consisted of multiple clearances, plenty of interceptions, blocked shots, and solid, direct passing. 

Kei, as previously mentioned, snapped his scoreless streak and won the game with the only goal. The headmaster found the back of the net off of a Jack Price corner. Kamara’s goals are only part of his skill set, his work off the ball and willingness to contribute on both ends of the pitch make him truly legendary in the ranks of MLS. 

Week 16: Vancouver Whitecaps F.C. 2-2 Colorado Rapids
Power Ranking: 16
TOTW: Abubakar, Kamara (Starting 11)

Two weeks in a row with two of the same starters on the TOTW? You bet! This match showed the grit and athleticism of Kei and Lalas. It’s a bit surprising a draw could earn two Rapids players a spot on the TOTW’s best 11. Vancouver also had Ali Adnan in the main squad, with Yordy Reyna on the bench. This was a western conference slug fest, and not the kind of tie game that lulls the neutral observer to sleep, as either team could have snagged a late victory.

Kamara took his first shot in the 7th, and he wouldn’t stop testing the keeper the rest of the game. That first attempt, as a matter of fact, led to the corner which resulted in the opening goal by Diego Rubio. Getting called up to the TOTW doesn’t require a forward to score goals, apparently, as Kei had none on the night. He did assist Andre Shinyashiki who had a great, one-touch poacher’s goal. Kei had a great game, simply said. He helped out on the defense as he so often does and passed the ball through the midfield with the skill one would expect of the consummate veteran.

Lalas put in the kind of performances that reflects why supporters would demand his signing. A steely match of ten(!) clearances, plus multiple blocks and interceptions on the night. It’s no wonder so many people point to Lalas as a major reason for the turnaround in the season.

Week 17: Colorado Rapids 1-0 Los Angeles F.C.
Power Ranking: 13 (Seven games unbeaten)
TOTW: Vines (Starting 11)

Vinesy! The phrase going around was, “He put Vela in his pocket.” Boy-howdy, that was no easy task against the eventual league Golden Boot winner Carlos Vela. This was also one of the lightning delay games which saw many of us up way beyond our bedtime on a Friday night. Props to Centennial 38 who partied in section 117 throughout the rain. Even while LAFC rested five of their regular starters (a fact LAFC supporters were quick to remind Rapids fans), their top tier attack couldn’t get through Sam Vines and the Colorado defense. 

Vines had six clearances on the night and his marking of Vela was certainly enough to catch the eyes of the MLS’s writers. Throughout the match, Sam was almost always in a great position to absorb pressure, and in LAFC’s most threatening attacks he was consistently on the shoulder of the ball carrier – putting enough pressure on to make them miss. That boy is going places, as the Resident Rapids Soccer Seer™ predicted.

Week 22: Colorado Rapids 6-3 Impact de Montréal
Power Ranking: 14
TOTW: Kamara, Price (Starting 11)

The nine-goal thriller against Impact de Montréal was oft cited as a fan favorite in off-season chatter amongst Rapids faithful. The game featured not one, not two, but three goals from Kamara. He put in work that night, with excellent passing, six shots, and three key goal line clearances, Kamara ran himself ragged in almost every game last season, but he appeared ageless in this one, particularly. A well-earned Man of the Match, and a place on MLS’s TOTW!

One thing Kamara would like to forget was the own goal committed in the 18th. Kamara is regularly criticized over his occasional own goal and bad average on penalties, but let’s not focus on the negatives. The striker makes up for the mistakes just as a pro ought to do.

Price had himself a cracker of a game, as well. He again exhibited his role as the fulcrum between the offense and defense. Almost all of the transitional play went through Jacko’s boot, with the Englishman notching around fifty successful passes. Additionally, he had three assists on the night, several key passes, and he seemed to pop up everywhere on the pitch. I’m sure most fans would agree that Jack Price was one of the best things to come out of the Hudson experiment.

Week 23: Colorado Rapids 2-1 San Jose Earthquakes
Power Ranking: 15
TOTW: Rosenberry (Starting 11); Rubio (Bench)

The woodwork was a “busy boy” on this night, as Fleming put it, with three shots deflecting off of the same post throughout the game. And with thirty-one shots interspersed between the two sides, fans were certainly on the edge of their seats. 

Diego Rubio scored his sixth goal in eight games, the game winner against San Jose, earning himself a spot on the bench of TOTW. He also notched an assist to Kellyn Acosta, had five shots, and was a general menace to the San Jose backline. 

Rosenberry was in the TOTW main squad for doing what he does best. He had a key clearance in the 70th minute, made an excellent tackle, and assisted Diego on the game winner. Rosenberry played every minute of the 2019 season, staking his claim as Colorado’s most consistent defender.

Week 24: Houston Dynamo 2-2 Colorado Rapids
Power Ranking: 17
TOTW: Rubio (Bench)

Diego Rubio scored a first half brace in a hard fought draw against Huston. His 8th and 9th goals of the 2019 season earned him a notable call-up on the bench for TOTW. Both of these goals were emphatically taken and show Rubio’s ability to read the game, take advantage of chances, and put on that special finishing touch.

He was threatening for more than just his two goals, however, as he was involved in several chances that could have seen the tie broken, with three points for the Burgundy-Blue. Rubio’s consistency at this point in this season made him a fixture on the TotW. This was a fast-paced, back-and-forth game with both teams displaying their explosive speed on the wings throughout.

Week 26: New York Red Bulls 0-2 Colorado Rapids
Power Ranking: 16
TOTW: Lewis, Smith (Starting 11)

The August 31 match against the Red Bulls was one to remember, not only for Jonathan Lewis’ brace, the debut of Robin Fraser, and the first ever Colorado victory at Red Bull Arena, but also for the ensuing schadenfreude from NYRB supporters who were just so, so sour about getting it handed to them by a former coach (Fraser) and former NYCF player (Lewis). 

Lewis was certainly prolific in his play, working the left wing at a USMNT level. He was critical to Colorado’s build-up play and made a crucial goal line clearance late in the game. His 14th minute goal displayed his speed and athletic ability. He ran down the wing on a counter, unassisted, making two Red Bull center backs and the venerable Luis Robles miss his rocket of a shot. His 2nd goal on the night was somehow even better than the first, dribbling through two defenders again to power home another screamer of a goal. Lewis scores when he wants!

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the other best 11 call up for Week 26: everyone’s favorite center back, Tommy Smith! If Tommy could have consistently put in this type of performance, he likely would have earned his $500,000/year TAM contract. He had five clearances in the match, a couple recoveries, and a few interceptions. Tommy held the line against Red Bulls and showed us what an English Championship-level defender can do. I suppose we saw a few good performances in his time with the Rapids, but he was just so good at scoring against the good guys!

Week 27: Colorado Rapids 2-0 Seattle Sounders F.C.
Power Ranking: 14th
TOTW: Shinyashiki (Starting 11)

Rapids supporters will remember this classic quote from Richard Fleming, “Andre Shinyashiki, the blonde bombshell!” This was fun, a bit of cold revenge for the early season whooping the Sounders handed the lads in Week 2. 

The story here is the absolutely stellar performance Shinyashiki put on in this match, which earned him an MLS TOTW call up. Andre had a brace against the Rave Green and plenty of brilliant link up play in the final third – a lovely welcome to The Dick for Robin Fraser’s homecoming.

Andre feared nothing that night. The forward had several outstanding dribbles and nearly had four goals if it weren’t for a couple of very-near misses. Though some shots missed their mark, Shinyashiki made a half dozen threatening through passes. Shinyashiki was direct, crisp, and put in work at both ends of the pitch. Certainly the kind of night forwards dream of having consistently, even against a heavily rotated Sounders squad. 

Notably, Keegs received a bench call-up to the TOTW for all of the reasons a coach could ask from a high level right back, including assisting Shinyashiki on his 2nd tally of the night.

Week 28: Colorado Rapids 2-1 L.A. Galaxy
Power Ranking: 14
TOTW: Rosenberry (Starting 11)

By the time this match finished with three points to the Rapids, supporters were declaring Colorado “Kings of California.”

Rosenberry earned his start in the MLS TOTW in a wildly-defensive match that came alive after the 75th minute with goals from the Galaxy and Rapids off corner kicks. A penalty was awarded to Colorado off of an excellent run from Shinyashiki who drew defenders in the box, ultimately leading to him getting chopped down as he went for the short square pass to a wide open Cole Bassett who surely would have had a brace on the night were it not for the heinous tackle on the future Rookie of the Year. 

Rosenberry slotted in for Sam Vines on the left for the night (this was a Wednesday game, so the squad was rotated) and had a stalwart performance. His night featured phenomenal passing, with diagonal through balls that consistently found their mark. He also had three clearances in the box at key moments, generally disrupting Galaxy’s chances throughout the night. Not only is Keegan Rosenberry consistently excellent, he is also versatile.

Week 29: Sporting Kansas City 2-3 Colorado Rapids
Power Ranking: 13
TOTW: Price (Starting 11); Kamara, Smith (Bench)

An away win against Sporting Kansas City is a big ask, even with SKC well outside of playoff contention. But the I-70 rivalry ended with the Rapids on top after a topsy-turvy, heart attack-inducing game which saw SKC post two goals and go a man down before the clock could tick off 20 minutes.

Price absolutely deserved his starting honors in the TOTW by acting as a lynchpin for the transition, covering every inch of the pitch, grabbing his 9th and 10th assists on the season off corner kicks (including the game winner), and he was generally a force to be reckoned with as is the M.O. of our Spartan defensive midfielder. 

Kamara would put the Burgundy Boys on the board before the half with what would be the club’s Goal of the Year. The stunner of a bicycle kick started a victorious comeback for the home team and earned Kei a spot on the bench for the Team of the Week.

Smith had himself a night. He completely flubbed a block, awkwardly extending backwards to stop a Zusi cross which was knocked in by Gerso in all of the 3rd minute. 15 minutes later, Smith would score an absolute stunner, poking in a cross from Illie and beating Tim Howard to the punch… Yes, one of Smith’s prolific own goals. Despite these early flubs, he somehow wound up on the bench for the Team of the Week.

To be fair to dearly departed Tommy Smith, he made up for his errors with some phenomenal hold-up play, assisting Rubio in the equalizer. Finally, just as Tommy won the club’s Golden Boot in 2018 with his headers, he used his noggin to find the back of the net off of a Price corner with five minutes and stoppage time to go, sealing a heart stopping burgundy victory in the cauldron of Children’s Mercy Park.  

Week 30: Colorado Rapids 3-0 F.C. Dallas
Power Ranking: 11
TOTW: Kamara (Starting 11); Vines (Bench)

Kamara and Vines earned a spot on the bench in Week 30, toppling Western Conference rivals and playoff hopefuls, F.C. Dallas. The Toros are always a joy to beat, especially when doing so inched the Rapids that much closer to earning a playoff spot themselves (though we all know how that ended).

Kamara earned himself Man of the Match honors in a dominant performance punctuated by five shots and some great tekkers. Keep in mind, this match featured yet another missed penalty attempt from the big forward. Kei got his slice of the goal pie though, scoring in the 72nd minute on a fantastic counter-attack with only three passes from the back line after a give-and-go from Nicholas Mezquida. Kei and the ‘Pids could have had five on the night were it not for a few stellar saves from Jesse González.

Sam Vines earned a place on the bench with 5 clearances, 5 recoveries, and a smattering of interceptions. He really came alive in the second half when FC Dallas came out of the locker room screaming. It seems as though the ceiling for Sam Vines may be the highest yet of the Rapids homegrowns. 

There we have it, every team of the week appearance for Rapids players in 2019 evaluated and analyzed. Moving into 2020, may we all remember that the beautiful game isn’t all about the nerdy statistics, the anticipation of the next podcast or article, or even the emotional roller-coaster of wins and losses. It’s all about the love of the ‘Pids!

Andrew L. Foster is a Student in Environmental Studies at Ft. Lewis College and a dedicated supporter of the Colorado Rapids. He can be reached online @C38_Southwest.

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