Following a successful 2020 campaign that saw the Colorado Rapids return to the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs, it was evident the club was pointed in the right direction toward its own stated goal of being a perennial playoff team. The roster had no obvious weak links; it was just a minor tweak here and there away from competing for trophies.
Enter the 2021 iteration of the Rapids and they’re best in the West, amassing more points over 34 games than every team in MLS save the New England Revolution. Everybody on the 2020 roster returned and improved, and there were a few minor tweaks made. Proving to be the most important of all the additions from then to now was winger Michael Barrios.
At the club’s annual end of season awards gala, nobody took home more hardware than the Colombian. Barrios won the following awards: Golden Boot, Fan Favorite and Players’ Player. To quickly recap, he scored the most goals of anybody on the best team in the West, he won over everybody in the stands despite being a new face on a roster full of fan favorites and he was your favorite player’s favorite player. For Barrios, it’s not a bad debut season in burgundy.
In case you forgot some of the highlights that helped Barrios stand out in a team brimming with talent and memorable moments, there are two games that stick out to me as defining for Michael Barrios.
The first was on a perfect evening at Providence Park in Portland, Oregon. Late in the Rapids’ lone trip to Oregon in 2021, Barrios was knocked off the ball at the goal line in the final third. While falling away from the ball, he threw out his boot and connected with it. Somehow, the ball floated, bent and fell behind goalkeeper Steve Clark at the far post.
The goal proved pivotal as the Timbers would come back and equalize, thus splitting the points between the two sides. It was a sensational goal that was just another demonstration of the way the winger can change games by himself.
The second moment that stands out vividly was in the Rapids’ one visit to St. Paul, Minnesota. Down a goal, down a man, an hour of soccer finished, Michael Barrios took over.
With the Rapids desperately trying to get back into the match, looking for a spark, Barrios made a run and was brought down in the Loons’ penalty area. Cole Bassett stepped up and buried the pen. 1-1.
Back in the game and playing on the front foot, Barrios recognized Minnesota had no answer for his or Jonathan Lewis’ pace. He made another run, got in behind and tapped home the game-winning goal off a perfect cross delivered to him. 2-1.
The Rapids could have settled in at that point and been cautious or hesitant. After all, being up a goal but down a man usually means you’re about to be put under tremendous pressure. The Rapids were, but they handled it perfectly. Defender Auston Trusty won a loose ball and sent it to the halfway line. Head on a swivel, Barrios found himself in Minnesota territory with only the goalkeeper to beat.
And he did, heading a ball past him into the path of Lucas Esteves. Esteves ran by himself the rest of the way and put home the exclamation point of the match. 3-1. Barrios earned the penalty to get the Rapids level, scored the game-winner and assisted the nail in the coffin. It was one of the best individual performances by anybody in burgundy all year long.
There’s no dearth of superlatives for Barrios. He’s speedy, intelligent, serves in great cross, gets in behind defenses and he’s a clean finisher. He’s helped take the Rapids from the 2020 playoff team that had to play on the road to the 2021 Rapids who have home field advantage on the West side of the playoff bracket.
How fitting that his two most memorable moments came against the two teams who will be battling in the first round of the playoffs for the right to come to DICK’S Sporting Goods Park on Thanksgiving. Barrios has already helped elevate the play of this team over 34 regular season games. I can’t wait to see how he’s deployed in the playoffs.