Depth, depth, depth.
Travel, the turf monster, suspensions, unique weather. There are tons of reasons a team’s depth might be tested over the course of a year-long campaign. What team was the deepest in MLS during 2017? Easy, Toronto FC. Their depth was on display throughout a treble-winning season. One player goes down, another fills in seamlessly. It’s cliché in sports – “next man up” – but that’s because the best teams, are oftentimes the deepest.
For the first time in 2018 Rapids fans saw their team’s depth tested, and in a very difficult environment. Injuries to Danny Wilsonand Marlon Hairston in the match against Philadelphia forced two changes to the starting lineup from Head Coach Anthony Hudson. Axel Sjöberg and Kip Colvey were called upon and the backline didn’t miss a beat, especially against a barrage of pressure in the first half. This is a very dangerous FC Dallas side and they were held quiet for most of the night, outside of a few chances. Colvey will never be mistaken for Marlon Hairston getting forward, but his task against FCD was to provide cover and an outlet for the back three. He was tested by the pace of Roland Lamah on the wing several times, but never broke. Axel was his usual steady self, keeping the match in front of him and dominating in the air. Nana Boateng was also given the start in place of Enzo Martinez and was productive and energetic in midfield all night. Nana has been pushing for minutes all season, and the staff must have felt he’d done enough in training to earn the start against Dallas. His physicality was a welcome sight in a match that got very chippy at times.
One thing Rapids fans can be sure of – this is a much deeper team than in recent years. On the road, against a conference opponent, all you can ask is that when your depth is tested, the players rise to the occasion. The three names called tonight did just that.
A point on the road is a good thing.
After Joe Mason’s 62nd minute goal, the visitors were oh-so-close to getting on the plane back to DIA with three points in hand. Another late goal from the opposition, another head-scratching finish for Rapids fans. For the third time this season, the mood in the locker room (and on social media) is a somber (or downright angry) one.
I get it, criticism should come when you fail to close out games. But yet, here the Rapids sit – still a team in transition – having strung together three games unbeaten against decent sides.
In 2018, there have been stretches in every game where the Rapids were CLEARLY the better side. Saturday, they took the game to Dallas as the more physical and organized side. After withstanding pressure in the first half they were on top of the match for the majority of the second 45. It was also notable that a few of the new faces to the rivalry – particularly Johan Blomberg, Jack Price, Edgar Castillo and Tommy Smith – wasted no time getting acclimated and announcing their presence throughout the 71st meeting between these clubs. Those are good signs.
In the end, most fans would’ve been satisfied with a road point against Dallas if asked ahead of the match. Mistakes at the end of games are more glaring than those made earlier in games – they need to be cleaned up and are ripe for criticism until they’re fixed – but a hard-fought draw against a Western Conference rival was not the worst outcome Saturday night.