Amongst the roars of a home crowd, Jack Price laid with his face buried in the turf, trying to catch his breath as play continued down the pitch.
He’d just collided with Minnesota United’s Nabilai Kibunguchy in the center circle on what was supposed to be a simple challenge for the ball to turn possession back to the Rapids.
But the elbow the captain took to his right side turned out to be anything but simple.
In a single season, Price has battled back from multiple injuries, sidelining him from his captain’s duties on the Rapids’ pitch and curbing his steadfast and calm presence to the bench. The midfielder first suffered a hamstring injury when Colorado welcomed MLS expansion side, Charlotte FC, to altitude in April, subbing off in the 44th minute.
He rested for the next two games, returning to the pitch when LAFC came to town and starting the next four games until he sustained a calf injury against NYCFC that would sideline him for the following eight matches.
His reappearance in the Rapids’ formation in their meeting with Minnesota was short lived, however.
The collision with Kibunguchy at DSGP seemed to most as a minor injury, one that takes the wind out of you before you’re able to recollect yourself and continue on with your day. Price finished out the first half before Gutiérrez took his place for the next 45, but the captain wouldn’t see the pitch again until a month and six games later.
What was posed to fans and members of the media as a “chest injury” turned out to be a cracked rib that punctured Price’s lung. It wasn’t until after his return to the field against Vancouver on September 10th did supporters get the complete picture as he made mention of the full extent of his injuries in the postgame press conference.
“I was sort of to win a free kick, just trying to play on it a little bit. I didn't feel any pain,” he recalled from the moment in the 30th minute.
“And then it was probably like two or three minutes after when I was trying to catch my breath. I just couldn't breathe. And I knew I broke my ribs because I've done it before. But I didn't know I punctured my lung as well. So when I got home I went to bed and all of a sudden, I was panicking, I couldn't breathe.”
Throughout it all, Price and his fellow Burgundy Boys have been nothing but supportive of the players that stepped up in his absence in the center of the pitch. Bryan Acosta, Gutiérrez and a now-dropped back Diego Rubio have held the fort down in the midfield, creating their own flows of play to create success up top.
Price and Gutiérrez got their first chance to take to the pitch together on Wednesday night against the Quakes, playing a total of 12 minutes side by side before the latter was subbed off.
“We have a handful of guys with a wealth of experience and ‘know how’,” said Fraser after the match. “‘Know how’, it's hard to explain exactly what I mean by that, but it's just an awareness of what needs to happen when in a game. We certainly saw moments where the understanding between the two of them, considering they hadn’t played together before, you see really good understanding and you have to think going forward that that only gets better between them.”
Acosta and Gutiérrez take turns delivering set pieces into the box and controlling the opposing threats in the center while Rubio jumpstarts the attack on the transition, driving toward the box searching for even more goals to tally onto his season-high.
But Price’s calmness and leadership is missed.
"A lot of the things he does doesn't show up on the stat sheet and it's just covering for guys, communication, leadership," said defender Keegan Rosenberry. "Even his presence in general, it's very calming ... he brings certain qualities that we can't replace really, and it's been great to have him back."
That influence was put on display against the Whitecaps as Price assisted Jonathan Lewis’ 75th-minute goal to extend the Rapids’ lead in the 3-1 victory. The assist marked the captain’s 35th contribution in burgundy, surpassing Terry Cooke for the second-most assists in club history.
Not only does Price bring a calmness to the pitch, but puts in a physical effort that you wouldn’t expect from a player returning from a cracked rib and resulting punctured lung. Throughout his 58 total minutes played against Vancouver and San Jose, the captain battled opponents for ownership of the midfield as hard as any other player on the field, throwing himself into slide tackles and playing with an urgency to get the ball back when he turned it over.
“It felt really good to be out there, just to be able to feel the competition, feel a tackle, a header,” he said after the meeting with the Whitecaps. “You miss that sort of side of it. It's the stuff that you don't think you'd miss but you do.”
Price and company face a tough test in the coming weeks as they close out the regular season with matchups against Texas sides FC Dallas and Austin FC. Following the international break, the Rapids welcome Dallas for their final home game of 2022.
His voice no longer hushed from his unwilling spot on the bench, the captain looks to lead the Rapids into a successful postseason campaign.
“I think just being a voice, it's just something that I'm used to doing. I'm always trying to talk and help and the little details that people don't see––maybe like tracking a runner or winning a tackle…those little things add up and at the end, you get results,” he said.
“Maybe we've missed that a little bit. I'm happy to be back out for the last games. And hopefully we can get two good wins and see what happens at the end of this season.”