If they were league games, the Colorado Rapids would lie on two points from three matches, having scored three goals but conceded five.
But this is preseason, and the team is building, learning and growing. Indeed, it is growing in knowledge, understanding and personnel.
Nine new players have joined the Rapids since the end of last season, and that in itself can take a wee while to work up a head of steam and travel at full tilt.
Already, though, fans will have witnessed enough from the three displays thus far to be heartened, with the 2015 campaign less than two weeks away.
Is this a side capable of lifting trophies this year? Who knows. One thing's for sure, this will be a much tougher team to break down in 2015, having toughened up the brittle spine which looked so fragile last season once the likes of Shane O'Neill, Drew Moor and then Jared Watts sustained injuries, and with the classy midfielder Jose Mari playing just 20 of the 34 games. Vicente Sanchez (17 appearances) was also limited in his game time.
As Drew Moor regularly tells me, the age of the more youthful players should no longer be something we make a song and dance about, as all are proven at this level and experienced enough for us to label them as simply 'good players', as opposed to 'good, young players'.
So, the Rapids already had good players. In adding Sam Cronin, Bobby Burling, Marcelo Sarvas, Michael Harrington and Zac MacMath, the team has acquired experienced players. And within that group, they have also brought in - shall we say - a competitive streak that the team may have lacked in recent times.
Off the field, you couldn't meet nicer guys than the Rapids players. In the past, they'd also been accused of being nice guys on the field as well. I think it's fair to say, that won't be the case this year. And that's not to suggest the team will be ill-disciplined, but they won't be pussycats either.
Caleb Calvert has all the tools to become a very good striker. He's yet to make his MLS debut, having spent time at Chivas USA, but this teenager is eager to learn and improve ... and he will.
Of the other new arrivals, Axel Sjoberg has settled in nicely. The six foot seven inch Swede emerged from the SuperDraft, and has not looked out of place in games pitting him against the likes of Dom Dwyer, Charlie Davies and Juan Agudelo.
Two Argentines have been added to the roster since the turn of the year, and what great signings they appear to be. Lucas Pittinari could run all day. Not only does he have a great engine, but he has superb vision as well as the ability to stop opposition forays in their tracks.
And last, but by no means least, there is 21-year-old young DP, Juan Ramirez. He is the most recent addition, having officially signed on February 20. From what we've seen in the short amount of time, this is a player who will give opposing defenders nightmares. He's slight, slippery and skillful, and able to operate on either flank.
Nine new signings, in a side that has played just three preseason games against MLS opposition (they also played UNLV in a warm-up to their warm-ups). Most of preseason for 2015 is now behind us. Two games remain, against FC Tucson and an as yet unknown opponent, before the serious stuff starts on March 7, away at Philadelphia Union (kickoff 2 p.m MT, Altitude).
A recent report suggested that the Rapids were rank outsiders for MLS Cup, at 50-1. In other words, there are those who feel this side will be the whipping boys. Some would say that's fair considering the woeful end to 2014, but that's lazily looking at past failings rather than the present position.
MLS is full of sides that have endured shocking seasons, only to tinker, rebuild and emerge stronger. This is undoubtedly a stronger Rapids side. Only time will tell whether it has the ability to match what D.C. United managed in 2013 or New England achieved in 2014, but rather than throw a temper tantrum and leap on soccer forums to put people in the picture, just sit back and smile quietly to yourself. We don't want to spoil the element of surprise.
Written by Special Olympics partner, Rachel Herndon
My teammates and I just got back from an exciting trip to Los Angeles where we played a match against the LA Galaxy’s Unified team. We had some other fun adventures such as exploring two different piers and Santa Monica beach, taking a trip to In-N-Out, and swimming back at our hotel.
Spending time with my teammates on this trip made me feel more connected. My personal favorite was spending time at the beach, since we don’t have one here in Colorado.
Although we came up short in the game, it was an awesome experience and super fun to play in another city on a different field, while we continued to perfect our teamwork and show others the skills we have been working hard on all summer. We showed improvement and never gave up. We went out, gave it our all and that was so fun to see.
While we didn't get a win, the team came back from Los Angeles with many memories that we will never forget.
Written by Special Olympics Colorado Athlete, Vince Egan
I was proud to represent the Rapids Unified Soccer Team in LA! The trip was so much fun. I felt honored to play with my team, such an awesome group of people. In addition to playing our game, I loved our trip to the beach and hanging out with my teammates. My only regret was there weren't enough donuts! It was a tough loss but I would love to go again I really want to get my first goal!
Written by: SOCO Intern Sam Quiat
The Colorado Rapids Special Olympics Unified All-Star Soccer team met again last Wednesday night at Douglas County High School. During the nearly two hour practice, the team worked on passing, dribbling and then scrimmaged in anticipation of their upcoming trip to Dallas on August 9. When asked about the upcoming trip unified partner Azur Ewari said: “I’m pretty excited about the trip. It’s one of those experiences that you look forward to. It should be a lot of fun.”
Another type of buzz surrounded the practice as the athletes and partners were set to attend a soccer clinic hosted by Aon and Manchester United before the Guinness International Champions Cup match on July 26. The team was excited about the possibility of meeting some of the Man Utd players at the clinic and learning from them. When asked about meeting some of the players Vincent Egan said: “It would be a great honor to meet those guys and to be able to get better from them.”
The team has come a long way since that first practice at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. We asked a few players on the team whom they think might have improved the most and while there was a wide range of player’s names thrown out there, every player who was nominated agreed that it was all due to their teammates' and coaches' help and support. The team will meet again next week to further their preparation for their trip to Dallas.
By: Sam Quiat, SOCO Marketing Intern
The team met for the third time Saturday night at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. There was a special kind of electricity in the air as many Rapids fans were at the stadium for the Rapids game against the Chicago Fire. As practice went on, everyone was listening closely to the sounds coming from Dick’s Sporting Goods Park.
The team has really started coming together. Athletes and partners are starting to make new friends. The partners and coaches are working with the athletes to develop their skills. Shooting was a focus at the start of practice and after sending a few shots high the players started to rein it in. Once the shots were on target it was time to put someone in goal. Tony and Luke stepped into the net at opposite ends of the field and blocked shot after shot. With the help from the coaches Tony has turned up his goal keeping skills and is determined to stop them all.
The practice was cut short by the approaching thunderstorm and Coach Ilima called it after an hour. The Rapids brought out ticket vouchers and some of the athletes and partners went in to watch the Rapids draw nil-nil. Not a bad way to end a practice. The team will meet again next Wednesday at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park.
Ryan Creager- Assistant Coach
The weather, the athletes, and the Unified partners all brought their “A” game to practice on Wednesday, May 28. After our initial practice on May 14, we had one week off and were anxious to get back together again. Of course, Cody Field was there to welcome everyone with a high five and his infectious attitude!
We started off with some dribbling moves, different techniques, and had some fun during our warm up exercises while incorporating static and dynamic stretching. This progressed to short passing with a partner through a “goal” while gradually increasing the distance between partners to play longer passes. As the confidence and skill level increased, each partnership was challenged to a race against the clock to four different “goals.” The manner in which the athletes and partners worked together was incredible! The constant dialogue of encouragement and praise contributed to not only more enjoyment, but also to more success.
One of our athletes, Kristina, is loving getting to know all her new friends and teammates. She always has a smile on her face, especially when she gets a chance to choose her partner for the activity.However, the real challenge comes when trying to determine who has the bigger smile, Kristina or her Unified partner!
After all of the dribbling, passing, and teamwork, the practice culminated with our first full-field scrimmage. Playing on a large field created more opportunities to demonstrate what they had just practiced. Although there are challenges that come with bigger space, formations, and positional spacing, all the players worked hard and remained supportive.
We wrapped up the practice with a team cheer and final instructions. All of the athletes, partners, and coaches are excited for next week and upcoming season. Check back often for more blog updates throughout the season. Thanks for the continued support!
Go Rapids SOCO!!
By Aspen DeField, Assistant Coach
The 2014 Colorado Rapids Special Olympics Colorado Unified Soccer program officially kicked off on Wednesday, May 14th. It was the first practice for the newly expanded team, which includes 30 athletes and a coaching staff of seven. Of the 30, there are 15 Special Olympics athletes and 15 Unified partners who demonstrated their skills at two separate try-outs.
This was the first time that the entire team has been together to play. Although many of them met at the team announcement before the Rapids game on May 3rd, this was their first opportunity to kick a ball, run around, work together and get to know their coaches. Some of the athletes, partners and coaches have participated in the program during the last two seasons, but most are new to the squad. There are athletes and coaches from Denver, Colorado Springs, Brighton, even as far as Pueblo! The group comes from around the state, but quickly found a rhythm and meshed well.
During this practice, the athletes’ focus was on becoming familiar with one another and getting to know everyone’s names, while the coaches were busy assessing strengths, areas for improvement and developing a practice plan for coming weeks. After warm ups and introductions, the team broke into two smaller groups to play a couple games of World Cup. Between each round, team members were alternated so that each person was able to work with a variety of their teammates and coaches on a small scale. It provided a perfect set-up for athletes to be assessed and coaches to be involved. Everybody had a great time, and we learned that there is some amazing talent on the team this year. Based on what was seen, there are going to be some defensive plays and scoring opportunities that you’ll want to see first-hand this season.
Overall, it was a great start to what promises to be an exciting season with plenty of new talent and athletes who are eager for experiences and victories!
Written by Eric Frohlick, Senior Manager, Intel IT Legal & Corporate Affairs
Note: Eric was contacted by Special Olympics Colorado to offer a fan's perspective of the SOCO Unified Team
I read John Meyer’s article on DenverPost.com covering the Rapids Special Olympics team and was moved by the story and a connection I have to the team’s star forward, Mackenzie Beauvais-Nikl, who is a student at Thomas Jefferson High School where I graduated in 1990. I hoped to meet Mackenzie and the rest of the team during their visit to Portland and cheer them on in their match against the Timbers.
As luck would have it, the team sat about 10 rows behind me at Rapids-Timbers MLS match and at half-time I introduced myself to the team, got to meet Mackenzie, and let them know I was a big fan. It was a special moment to see all of their smiles. The following day, my 12 year old son Matthew, who is a goalkeeper for a regional Timbers Olympic development team, and I came to watch and cheer for the team in their match against Portland. We had a great time cheering on Mackenzie and the rest of the players during a downpour.
All of the players were fantastic and now Ibsen, who scored a hat trick for Colorado, is Matthew’s favorite player. In fact, Matthew named a new pair of Adidas shoes “The Ibsens” in his honor. I hope our presence gave the players a sense of joy and support.
The Rapids and KSE deserve to be recognized for their sponsorship of the program and both Matt Pickens and Chris Klute deserve special recognition for their support of the kids and on-field coaching during the match giving the team the encouragement and confidence to have fun and be successful.
Written by Ilima Kane, Coach
It’s Monday evening and time for another Special Olympic Rapids practice. The eight players who traveled to Portland are still a bit jet lagged but the seven new players are ready to go and the energy is positive all around. We circle up to start practice with some introductions. I ask the original eight players what their favorite part of our experience so far has been and faces light up all around the circle. Morgan straightens up and says, “When Matt Pickens helps me in goal!” with a huge grin.
Sam is proud to be the captain and lead such a great team to victory. He says, “We worked hard and came together as a team. That was my favorite part.” Ben echoes those statements and adds that he likes being able to travel and play against teams from other states. Mackenzie says, “It was scary and very exciting. Having the Rapids players there watching meant we had to do our best and we did!” She is glowing with the memory. Ryan enjoyed being a part of such an effective team and Dylan really enjoyed the fancy hotel bathrobes. Azur couldn’t make our practice but I think he would agree with the group, the trip was a fantastic experience all around. Ibsen is proud of his hat trick and sums things up nicely with a resounding, “Awesome!”
We ask the new players what they are looking forward to most and more faces light up. Calmer is excited to be a part of the team and can’t wait to meet some of his favorite Rapids players. Luke is ready to get in goal and show the world what he is made of. Vince is happy to be a part of the team and looks forward to the big game against Seattle. Dominic is excited to be back with the team and can’t wait to get to work to support his new teammates and play hard. Patrick, Tonya and Sam are excited to be a part of the experience and dive right in, helping their teammates as we roll out a nice game of “world cup” for the main part of our practice.
Things are a little chaotic at first, but everyone settles in quickly. The passing improves and soon there is plenty of ribbing and laughter all around as everyone gets comfortable with each other. We end the practice by lining up in our new 11 aside formation and talk a little about how this new format is going to work and how to support each other on the field. Next practice we’ll run a big scrimmage and focus on positioning and lots of communication.
This is a great team and, as a coach, I was impressed to see how quickly and easily they have all come together towards our goal of being the best team we can be as we face off against Seattle.