Commerce City, Colo. – At halftime of the Rapids home game against Chivas USA on September 4, forward Omar Cummings made a decision that would define his season.
With the score tied 0-0, Cummings changed his white cleats to a golden pair to start the second half. The Jamaican forward proceeded to have a hand in all three goals as Colorado won 3-0.
A confident Cummings first ripped a hard shot from the right side that Chivas keeper Zach Thornton mishandled, allowing Conor Casey to tap in the first goal of the game.
Cummings then iced the game with two goals of his own, first turning his mark inside-out before shooting low in a beautiful solo effort, and then finishing the game with a shot from the left side.
The 28-year-old would go on to score six more goals over his next seven games to finish the season with 14, edging Casey’s 13 goals to win the 2010 Golden Boot award.
“I went in to games thinking, ‘you’re not shooting enough,’ Cummings said of what he did different at the end of the year. “And if I got an opportunity, to shoot the ball and make the keeper make the save; to not try to score the perfect goal, or the easy goal. And if it didn’t work, fine, but the keeper could make a mistake, or we could get a rebound, or something could happen from it.”
The goals were a career-best for the forward, who had scored 14 goals in the two previous seasons combined.
Cummings played a good part of the season on the right flank as the Rapids used Casey as a lone striker. However, amidst a spell of one win over ten games in the middle of the year, coach Gary Smith switched to a 4-4-2 formation and moved Cummings up top in the final third of the season. The results were immediate.
The Rapids went 5-2-3 to close out the season and scored half (22) of their total goals (44).
“It’s not that I don’t enjoy playing on the right, I’ve also done it with the Jamaican national team,” said Cummings. “But in that stretch, we weren’t getting as many opportunities as we wanted to. We weren’t having the success we wanted to, teams were trying to prevent me from getting the ball, and it was a little frustrating. So going back up front was a joy for me.”
After scoring five goals through the first 20 games of the season, the 4th year player scored nine over the last ten games, in which he played nine.
“When you make others to adapt to you, you already change their game plan," he said. "When teams have to adapt to a Colorado playing-style, they are already thinking about you way too much, and that’s half the battle.”
For Cummings, the turning point was not just about moving up front. He had seen the Rapids miss out on the playoffs down the stretch in each of his first three seasons, and was determined to not let that happen again.
“One thing that was in my mind was that I didn’t want to be in the same position that we were in the last few seasons, so that was definitely a drive for me,” he added. “I wanted to win games and put ourselves in the position where we were in the playoffs with games left in the season.”
While Cummings put a lot on himself to improve his game and help the team, Smith and assistant coach Steve Guppy have also spent significant time showing Cummings the finer points of playing both as a flank player or at forward.
“If you look at how his game has improved, you start to think about the movements that he’s making,” said Smith. “His timing of his runs, the ability to pick out the right pass, all of those facets of his game have improved enormously the last two years.”
Statistics aside, there are other factors that contribute to Cummings success.
“He’s a very level headed guy, there’s no ego in his game,” added Smith. “And his work rate – on and off the ball he is perpetual motion. That’s why his game is so difficult to deal with.
“He is continually making those runs and he’s also helping the team on the other side of the ball and recovering into good areas, shutting down deep midfield players and defenders to speed up play, getting on the end of turnovers and rebound that he can then take more advantage of higher up the field.”
Sports are filled with stories of players with ‘potential’ that often don’t to live up to the hype. But Cummings’ continued progress points in a different direction.
“I’ve come across many players that have huge potential but don’t want to work hard enough to take that on board and then to carry it out on the training field time and time again,” said Smith. “It’s only the very best players that continue to work at it, and to change their game to absorb that information and be able to impart it at the right time.”
“He’s now adapted his game, worked at his game, taken on board an awful lot - and some criticism at times – and he’s now seeing the reward and benefit from that.”
In his fourth year, Cummings also recognizes what was, and is, expected of him.
“This year, more than any other year, I saw myself as being that guy the team was looking at to be the one to score the goals, to be a leader on the team,” Cummings said. “The responsibilities were there, so it was time to take on those responsibilities.”