When the Colorado Rapids face the New York Red Bulls inside Red Bull Arena next Tuesday, it will be a first meeting since August 31, 2019, which marked the first game in charge for the then newly appointed head coach, Robin Fraser.
Two goals from Jonathan Lewis, his first career brace in MLS, handed Fraser a winning start and the Rapids their first win ever at Red Bull Arena. Their record to that point had been 0-3-3.
Victory came in the last of four consecutive road games. The Rapids had been winless in the previous three, the most recent of which was a 2-0 loss at Real Salt Lake, with both goals coming in stoppage time, and after Kei Kamara had been sent off.
And so, they arrived in Harrison, New Jersey without their leading scorer, without a win in three weeks, having never won at the venue, and with a brand-new head coach. They were also minus Kellyn Acosta and Lalas Abubakar due to yellow card accumulation. Both had been booked at RSL.
It would also be North Brunswick-born Tim Howard’s final MLS appearance in his home state. His MLS career began with the MetroStars, later renamed the Red Bulls, in August 1998 (a 4-1 home win over the Rapids).
Lewis was an unused substitute at Rio Tinto and had come off the bench in the 2-2 draw at Houston Dynamo a week earlier. He wasted little time in making an impact, scoring the opening - and his fourth of the season - 14 minutes into the game, and just moments after Bradley Wright-Phillips had nodded his header against the post at the other end.
It was a fine individual goal from Lewis, who darted between two defenders before clipping the ball beyond Luis Robles and inside the far post.
The Red Bulls bit back with chances of their own but as the home team faded, so the Rapids grew in confidence. Cole Bassett, Lewis, and Diego Rubio were all denied by Robles before Lewis - once of New York City - bagged his second of the game three minutes from time.
Fraser had been an assistant coach at the Red Bulls for seasons 2013 and 2014. His first words after his first game as head coach of the Rapids were: “I can't say enough about the effort, really can't. The guys put out such an incredible effort. I told them afterwards, I want to be associated with this team because those guys fight.”
Under Fraser, the Rapids did indeed fight, winning five of their remaining seven games of 2019, and were a whisker away from reaching the playoffs, something which appeared impossible just a matter of weeks earlier.
At this point we cannot overlook the fine work interim head coach Conor Casey did in picking up the team during his caretaker spell.
All in all, the Rapids’ regular season record under Fraser sits at 36-24-20. The game in Seattle was his 80th in charge of the team, a team which has reached the postseason in Fraser’s two ‘full’ seasons in charge. The 2020 season was reduced due to Covid, of course.
For a club which plays at altitude, last season left many feeling giddy as the Rapids finished top of the pile in the Western Conference. Records were smashed, new heights were reached.
With the Rapids returning to where it all began under Fraser, it is worth reflecting on the work done. And while this season has brought with it challenges, there can be no denying the role played by the Jamaica-born 55-year-old in the highs of the last three years.
Oh, and that win inside Red Bull Arena in 2019 triggered quite the run. You know what I’m saying?