Stoppage Time: "Plenty to be Thankful For

STOPPAGE TIME
With Brian Crookham

This Edition: "Plenty To Be Thankful For"

The 2006 season has come and gone in Major League Soccer. Both the Rapids and MLS should have plenty to be thankful for.

First let’s talk about the Rapids:

The regular season especially on the road was nothing to write home about. Timing is everything though and big results away from Denver landed the team in the Western Conference Final for the second straight year.

The club also this year claimed two trophies winning the Rocky Mountain Cup over archrivals Real Salt Lake for the second straight season in what has become the best rivalry in MLS as well as the MLS Reserve Division Championship Trophy which the Rapids Reserve squad won handily in its second year of inception.

The nucleus of a very talented team appears to be gathering here. The entire group of Senior Internationals is contributing to this team. When is the last time you could say that about the Rapids?

Add Cannon Beckerman and Mastroeni to the mix and there is certainly a core of players to build from. We even saw a little of the old Cleetus in the post-season. This team still needs some work but a couple of moves could make it a very exciting team to watch in 2007. I’ll share more of my thoughts on player personnel in my next column in December.

Off the field the KSE have made a commitment to the future of the club.

In April the team will call Dick’s Sporting Goods Park its new home. I have talked before about the importance of a soccer specific stadium to the ability of a franchise to control its own future. Most of the talk has been about the financial implications and not the human side of having a new home.

The players will be able to dress meet get treatment train and compete while being based out of the same locker rooms. The coaches will be able to come to work game days included and enjoy one stop access to everything they need. The support staff from trainers to equipment managers to public relations and game day operations will no longer have to set up temporary shops in a foreign building on game days.

Few people ever see behind the scenes but creating a big-time environment around such an organization goes far beyond the 90 minutes the teams spend on the field each week.

The Rapids organization will also make a commitment to youth development. Most of that development will take place as the Rapids' youth teams start to train next year on well-groomed fields in the shadow of the first team’s pitch at the new stadium. One way of developing emotional ties to your team is by putting people in your jerseys.

Overall fans of the Rapids this year can give thanks this year for a great run through the playoffs coupled with the fact that the organization under KSE appears to have come a long way in a fairly short period of time.

On to MLS:

The last year has really been proof of the maturation of this league. It has always been stated that the league wants to learn from past successes and failures (read NASL) to ensure their long term viability. Controlled growth has put the league in a position where it has a more diverse group of owners dedicated to the future of the game. The health of the league has now presented the opportunity to move forward.

League-owned player contracts have kept salaries in check as support has been built for the league. In some cases the new Designated Player Rule will now open the door to more "big name" players playing in the league. You can bet that not every franchise will use this opportunity but this is an indicator of the confidence the league has in its future.

Other changes will help as well. The importance of regular season games has always been an issue. This year as in years past it was all about getting into the top 4 and seeing what happens from there.

Next year it won’t be that simple. Many factors will make watching the regular season a little more exciting in 2007. You can count on Los Angeles and Real Salt Lake the two Western Conference teams that didn’t make the playoffs not being pushovers in 2007. The Western Conference is only guaranteed two post-season spots so winning crossover games is even more important. Spots in future MLS/MFL competitions will also be based on regular-season finishes.

Add a new franchise in Toronto television rights deals the availability of all MLS league games on television for the first time and youth development schemes to the mix and there is plenty to be excited about for 2007.

Rewind to 1995 and I remember sitting in a ballroom in downtown Denver as they officially announced that teams such as the Clash the Burn the MetroStars and the Wiz would compete with the Rapids in this new league called Major League Soccer. It was a day that was met with excitement and a lot of uncertainty. As we close out 2006 there are still lingering doubts but there is an overriding feeling of excitement.

More importantly there is eleven years of history to be thankful for."

Brian Crookham's "Stoppage Time" column runs exclusively on ColoradoRapids.com. Brian is the Assistant Technical Director for the Colorado State Youth Soccer Association and serves as color commentator for Rapids broadcasts on Altitude TV. Views and opinions expressed in this column are the author's and not necessarily those of the Colorado Rapids or ColoradoRapids.com. Send any questions or comments to Brian at StoppageTime@att.net