Are you tired of waiting for the Audi 2021 MLS Cup Playoffs to begin, Rapids fans? And then waiting for the first round to finish so we know who the Rapids are playing on Thanksgiving Day? Looking for something to fill the interminable gap between Decision Day and the journey to MLS Cup? If you answered yes to any of the above, I have the antidote: five takeaways from the regular season.
1) Historic Campaign
The 2021 Colorado Rapids did what none of their predecessors in club history could do - they won the West, earning the top seed and a first round bye in the postseason. The Rapids played 33 match days and weren’t in first place in the West at the end of any of them. But thanks to winning three of their final four matches and timely skids from Seattle and Kansas City, the Burgundy Boys closed out match day 34 alone on the mountaintop.
The team secured first in the West in part by being tougher to beat than anybody else in their conference. The Rapids’ only suffered seven losses in the 2021 regular season, a feat nobody else in the West could equal. Now that the playoffs are here, this bit of character and personality is what will give the Rapids an edge over just about anybody. They’re hard to beat. And in a single elimination format, you have to beat your opponent. You have to be better, undeniably, over 90 minutes. Any team that has to will dread coming to DICK’s Sporting Goods Park knowing the task in front of them.
Another personality trait this team can boast is their stout defense. They only conceded 35 goals in 34 games, good enough for fourth fewest in the league. They’re hard to break down, hard to beat and they’ve been this way all year long.
2) Bench Boss
A finalist for MLS’s Coach of the Year, Robin Fraser took over this team and almost overnight turned them into a contender. He’s technically in his third calendar year in charge but just finished his first 34-match season. And nobody managing the Rapids has ever got off to as good of a start as him.
After 50 games in charge, he has the best record, a sparkling 25-12-13, the most points (88), goals scored (82), fewest goals conceded (61), goal differential (+21), most clean sheets (17) and wins (25).
Fraser is figuratively but dramatically rewriting the record books in Colorado soccer history. Since his first game on August 31, 2019, the Rapids have the second-best points per game in MLS at 1.76. Only Seattle’s 1.78 is better, and they’re only ahead by mere fractions.
It’s difficult to imagine anybody else in MLS coming into Colorado and doing the job, and doing it from day one, that Robin Fraser has done.
3) The Captain
Given that this team is the embodiment of a team, it may seem difficult to pick out one man and say he’s “the guy.” But that only holds up if you’re unfamiliar with the club’s captain, Jack Price.
The Englishman arrived ahead of the 2018 campaign which proved to be one of the toughest introductions to MLS for a foreign player. But he stuck with it and laid the bricks that became the foundation for the argument to make him the team’s captain following the retirement of legendary goalkeeper Tim Howard.
Since 2019, Jack Price leads MLS in assists off set piece plays with 22. Next closest is the New England Revolution’s Carles Gil with 11. That statistic boggles my mind. There’s nobody doing what Price is doing on set pieces, there’s nobody within the same gravitational pull. The discrepancy, at this level with elite players, shouldn’t be this wide.
Oh, and he also finished the season with 12 assists, good for fourth most in MLS. He doesn’t get the recognition he deserves outside of Colorado but that doesn’t seem to affect his play at all. He still stands as the heart of a team that has proven their quality and still has all their goals in front of them.
4) Talent Top to Bottom
While Jack Price has been instrumental in this season’s success, he is still one man and can’t do it all by himself. The Rapids roster is a stable full of thoroughbreds who have contributed and helped carry this team at different points this season.
At goalkeeper, it’s William Yarbrough in his first year as the full-time starter and all he did was lead the league in clean sheets with 13, came second in save percentage (76.81%) and finished fourth in saves made with 107. He stands alone as the only goalkeeper in the league to finish top five in all three categories.
In front of him, defenders Danny Wilson, Auston Trusty and Lalas Abubakar all helped form the shield to protect Colorado’s goal. Wilson’s distribution, Abubakar’s tenacity and Trusty’s consistency are all different from each other but nearly unbeatable when combined.
The attack was led by the team’s golden boot winner Michael Barrios – who’s one of only three MLS players with 39+ goals and 50+ assists since 2015 – and supplemented by Jonathan Lewis, Dominique Badji, Diego Rubio, Cole Bassett and Andre Shinyashiki who all scored four goals or more.
In the midfield, we’ve already discussed the importance of Jack Price but can’t forget Collen Warner, Mark-Anthony Kaye and Kellyn Acosta. The latter two who ended up having fantastic campaigns for club and country. Acosta has played in every USMNT match in 2021, including three victories over Mexico, and Kaye has helped lead Canada to the top of the World Cup Qualifying group.
5) Here, There, The Rapids Will Play Everywhere
The Rapids will have home field advantage throughout the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs should they play anybody not named the New England Revolution. And that’s pretty good because under Robin Fraser, the Rapids have only lost two home games.
On top of that, the Rapids finished with the best goal differential at home in the West (+17). Their 14 goals conceded at DICK’s Sporting Goods Park is tied with Minnesota for fewest goals conceded at home in the Western Conference. And now the West runs through the Rockies.
Should the Rapids find themselves on the road, they were al exceptional away from the friendly confines of Colorado in 2021. They tallied eight road victories which is the most in club history in the post-shootout era. They had the third most road wins, and the third best road record in MLS. It doesn’t matter where the game is played, this club knows they can compete.