Sometimes, I sit back and think “man, it’s great to be a Rapids fan.” Now is not one of those times.
I have, admittedly, put off writing an update in hopes that my optimistic forecast coming off the Rapids’ 3-0 win in Portland might actually come to fruition. Time will tell, I said, whether the Rapids just had a good game or whether things were really starting to come together. I joined in the cautious optimism that Oscar Pareja’s system was taking root and starting to blossom, that the Rapids had really turned a corner with that win in Portland. Ultimately, time has told that the Rapids just had a good game.
On July 4th, the Rapids played a decent game, had tons of chances, but just couldn’t find the back of the net and ultimately fell (again) to Vancouver (1-0).
On July 7th, the Rapids played a passable game, had tons of chances, found the net once, but ultimately fell to Seattle (2-1) on the road. Are you seeing the trend here? The best moment of the game happened AFTER the match, when Brian Mullan and Steve Zakuani exchanged shirts and hugged after meeting on the pitch for the first time since Mullan’s tackle left Zakuani sidelined over a year ago. Fans weren’t alone in their frustrations. Captain Drew Moor, who usually takes to twitter to thank fans for their support & offer promises that we’ll get ‘em next time after a loss, tweeted “Absolutely f*ckin’ gutted… Spent…” and nothing more. What else is there to say?
On July 14th, the Rapids played a pretty dismal game. Created some chances, capitalized on one of them, but ultimately fell to 2-1 to Dallas at home at DSGP. Let me put that loss into perspective for you: Dallas had not won a single game on the road THIS ENTIRE SEASON. They had not won a game anywhere in 13 games; not put three points on the table in 92 days. We lost to that team. At home. And that…is incredibly depressing. And again, it’s not just hard for the fans; it’s becoming visibly tough on the team. On the pitch they had good moments, but on the whole, they looked disconnected and frustrated. Coming off the pitch they looked defeated, and not only “we just gave up three points” defeated, but “we didn’t deserve to take three points, and I feel it deep in my psyche” defeated. Goal keeper Matt Pickens’ post game comments included the confession that “this is the toughest stretch I think I’ve ever been on as a soccer player,” and that “the way we’re representing our club on our home field is pretty damn embarrassing.” It sucks, and it breaks my heart, but I do kind of have to agree with that statement. What is going on here!?
Every loss leaves many fans demanding Oscar Pareja be removed from his post, but that’s not a bandwagon I’m willing to jump on just yet. I am willing to accept that empire building takes time, and I am willing to accept that some empire building is going on here. In the last month, the Rapids waived Kohei Yamada, Quincy Amarikwa, Ross LaBauex, and Eddie Ababio. Fan favorite Kosuke Kimura requested and was granted a transfer to Portland. In addition to earlier signings, the Rapids have picked up homegrown player Shane O’Neill and last week signed defender Tyson Wahl from Montreal Impact. (Edit: As I was writing this, the Rapids also waived Harrison Henao, opening another international roster spot.)
Pareja’s intended system is very different from former coach Gary Smith’s, so there are a lot of pieces that need to come together to make it work, and it’s going to take time. If we’re playing like this at this time next year, absolutely, sack everyone and start over again, but for now, as painful as it is to watch, I have to urge my fellow supporters to be less reactionary and more patient. I say best case scenario for this season is that there’s an “aha!” moment where it just clicks and then we’re good to go. I really thought that moment had happened in Portland, but I was wrong. Honestly, I think the worst case scenario is that we make slow (frustrating, agonizing) but steady progress toward becoming a team that can play attack-centered football without letting the defense fall apart in the process.
This has been a really, really tough stretch; I won’t lie and say that it hasn’t been. I also won’t lie and say I’m feeling awesome and like we’ll get ‘em going into this next stretch. I will say this: if we can make this system work, we can be very good…but it’s probably going to be ugly or at least hit-or-miss until then.
This Wednesday, July 18th, the Rapids head to Toronto. Apparently we’ve only ever won once at BMO Field, but it was the 2010 MLS Cup final. So if we work with the (completely baseless) hypothesis that we can only win there when it really counts, maybe we’ll pull something together there this week.
It’s this coming Saturday in Salt Lake that I’m really concerned about. With the USOC behind us, the Supporters Shield out of reach, and even playoff prospects looking bleak, the Rocky Mountain Cup is really all we’ve got in terms of something tangible left to win. I hate the idea of a “must win game,” because really, every game is a must win game if you want to be a successful club, but July 21st is a MUST WIN game for the Rapids and their supporters. If the Rapids can take three points at Rio Tinto, I suspect they’ll get a little more leniency from their fans, at least until August 4th, the third and final match of this year’s RMC. (Seriously guys, that cup needs to come home to Colorado, and it needs to have burgundy ribbons on it when it does.)
In closing, I must wearily ask you to take heart, Rapids supporters. It’s not always easy to Bleed Burgundy, but I’m not going to stop doing it anytime soon, and our boys need to know that we’re behind them, win or lose. Glory, glory Colorado!
(image courtesy of Garrett Ellwood/Colorado Rapids)