C. S. Lewis, the author of The Chronicles of Narnia, once said: “Failures are finger posts on the road to achievement.”
November 9, 2012, was the day on which Chivas USA parted ways with Robin Fraser as their head coach, bringing to an end two seasons of mediocrity, during which they went 15-32-21 and endured a 14-game winless streak.
Fraser had been assistant coach at Real Salt Lake from 2007-11, a period which coincided with RSL’s MLS Cup success in 2009. He was assistant to Mike Petke when New York Red Bulls were Supporters’ Shield winners in 2013, and assistant coach during Toronto’s golden spell with Greg Vanney when the Canadian club won the treble (MLS Cup, Supporters’ Shield, and Canadian Championship in 2017).
There is a quiet confidence within 55-year-old Fraser, who today has been rewarded with a 4-year contract extension. He could quite easily have lead a less stressful existence as an assistant coach, but I suspect he still had something to prove to himself.
He was desperate to prove that his spell in charge of Chivas USA was indeed a finger post on the road to achievement. He refused to be defined by his spell at the defunct California club.
And while Chivas USA is but a fading name in the annals of MLS, the stock of Robin Lucius Fraser has risen at a rapid rate since being named head coach of the Rapids on August 25, 2019.
The former Rapids player, who had also played locally for the Colorado Foxes, inherited a squad which had improved under interim head coach Conor Casey, but was stepping into a club which had struggled for success since the whirlwind of a season that was 2016.
They were a jigsaw with a missing piece, a cake without icing and - if I’m to get really poetic - Romeo without Juliet. In other words, they were incomplete. Lots of solid structures were in place, and the belief was that Fraser was that missing piece, that icing on the cake, that coming together of the Montagues and the Capulets.
There were those who pointed to his limited, less than convincing head coaching experience. The doubters were swiftly silenced, as his first game in charge was a 2-0 win at New York Red Bulls just six days on from his appointment. That was a first win inside Red Bull Arena for the Rapids in seven visits.
Fraser rallied the side to five wins in the remaining seven games of that season, with the players only missing out on the playoffs on the final weekend. This was a side which had begun the campaign without a win in their first 11 games.
In the two full seasons since, the Rapids has reached successive postseasons. They had not managed that since 2010-11.
The Rapids regained the Rocky Mountain Cup in 2020 by doing something they had never managed before. Their 5-0 hammering of RSL in Utah was their first win inside Rio Tinto Stadium, stretching back to when the venue first opened in 2009.
They repeated the scoreline two weeks later in putting five unanswered past San Jose at home. Not only was this side winning, but they were winning with style. Goals were flowing, fans were entertained, smiles were slowly returning.
This Rapids were on a roll under Robin, and 2021 set new standards for the club.
· They had a goalkeeper in William Yarbrough who kept a club-high 13 clean sheets.
· They went unbeaten at home for 16 regular season games in a row.
· They won eight road games, only bettered once in their history, in 1999 and before ties were allowed.
· Their 17 total wins was again only bettered in 1999, when they managed 20 (though some via the shootout method after matches were tied at the end of regulation).
· The club broke the 60-point barrier for the first time, finishing on 61 points from 34 games.
· They finished top of the Western Conference at the end of the regular season for the first time.
Quite rightly, Fraser was a finalist for the MLS Coach of the Year award, but his achievements could not be isolated to one season. Under the Jamaica-born head coach, the Rapids have gone 32-16-15. They have amassed 111 points from 63 games, at an average of 1.76 points per game.
Averaged out over a 34-game season, that would deliver just shy of 60 points. But more than the numbers and the records - as impressive as they are - Robin Fraser has swept in and altered a mindset. The brittle belief has been replaced by a genuine confidence. The chip on the shoulder has made way for a puffing out of the chest.
Games are no longer lost in the head before they are fought for on the field. There is a swagger, but not born out of arrogance, rather belief, of knowing who you are and what you are capable of, of having an awareness and understanding of your limits and pushing on to reach your goals.
And so, with news of this contract extension, the Rapids can continue along the road to achievement, driven forward by the man for whom there remains unfinished business.