View from the Booth: Rapids are the best team in MLS
At what point does greed overtake ambition?
The reason I ask is that, with Saturday's dramatic 3-2 victory over the Vancouver Whitecaps at another packed Dick's Sporting Goods Park, the Colorado Rapids shattered club records in raising the bar to dizzy new heights - and still we want more.
Now, is that being greedy, bearing in mind how far this team has travelled this season, or does it show a burning desire to better oneself?
I’m going to answer my own pondering here and suggest it shows the latter. For me, greed is displayed by those undeserving or those who don’t necessarily need what they’re chasing. Ambition is expressed by those no less hungry, but who are also worthy of the riches up for grabs.
(Nice gentle start …)
Victory over the Whitecaps lifted the Rapids past the 50 point mark for the first time in franchise history (the previous best had been achieved in 2011 with 49 points), though I do acknowledge regular seasons in years past have contained fewer games.
Full Match Highlights
And, if you want to look at progress made, then look no further than the second half of the 2013 season.
Statistically, the Rapids are the best team in Major League Soccer, along with New York Red Bulls of the Eastern Conference, and that bodes well as we venture toward the playoffs.
Over the first 17 games of the regular season, when injuries to senior players were commonplace and Head Coach Oscar Pareja rarely had players of choice at his disposal, the stuttering Rapids had managed just 20 points by the midway point of the campaign.
In the 16 games since, the rejuvenated Rapids have amassed a staggering 31 points. Only the Red Bulls can match that tally (25 points from the first 17 games, and 31 from the last 16). Of the leading teams in the West, the stats are as follows:
Portland Timbers: 30 from 17; 24 from 16
Real Salt Lake: 30 from 17; 23 from 16
LA Galaxy: 24 from 17; possibly 28 from 16
Seattle Sounders: 24 from 17; 27 from 16
And the entertainment value has sky-rocketed as well. The Rapids found the net just 17 times in the first half of the season. Since the 3-0 mid-point mauling at the Timbers, the Rapids have scored 28 goals in 16 outings.
Saturday's show was another example of how sport drips with drama and makes you shiver with excitement. Kekuta Manneh is an exciting prospect, but goodness knows how he was allowed time and space to turn, before firing home an exquisite shot from 25-yards. Heartening, though, to hear players were frustrated and angered by the error.
The silence which fell across Dick's Sporting Goods Park was a little unnerving. I was in two minds as to whether to quieten down my goal call for fear of being told to 'ssshhhh'.
Up to that point, the game had been a little flat. With so much at stake, the two teams were no doubt fearful of making a costly mistake.
In fairness to the Rapids, they picked up the pace and levelled before the interval with a superbly taken spot kick from Gabriel Torres. I note the bleating from around the league (yes, you San Jose fans), suggesting it should never have been a penalty because 'that's something we see all the time in the penalty area.' Yes, and maybe more referees ought to try and put a stop to the wrestling by pointing to the spot more often. Players would quickly change their ways.
Clint Irwin chipped in with his first assist of the season as rookie Deshorn Brown continued his fine form with number 10 for the year.
Gabriel Torres' Winning Goal
Jordan Harvey seemed to be enjoying himself down the Whitecaps' left-hand side, and deftly drew a foul for Camilo to convert a penalty for the visitors (not sure how he was allowed to make a run, un-tracked, from the left-back position), before Torres capped another memorable night with an unforgettable goal.
These are exciting times for the Rapids, but concerns remain heading toward the playoffs. Teams seem wary of the threat posed by the Rapids' wide boys, and maybe it's just a coincidence that Chris Klute has gone eight games since his last assist - the longest sequence of the season. Certainly on Saturday, both Klute and Marvell Wynne were required to undertake more defensive duties.
But it's through the middle where my eyes were drawn at the weekend. Space and pace is something the Rapids have to guard against going through the center. That is, affording opposing players too much space, as was the case with Manneh at the weekend, and getting beaten for pace – something which is rarely an issue out wide.
That said, Rapids fans have got to be ecstatic with where the side is right now. Dramatic matches, attractive soccer and a squad that has the confidence and belief to go the distance.
Statistically speaking, one of the worst teams in the first half of the season, since when they’ve been the best. I’ll say this (and I’ve heard similar mutterings from colleagues elsewhere) … nobody will fancy facing the Rapids in the playoffs.