When the Colorado Rapids stand toe-to-toe with Toronto FC at DICK’S Sporting Goods Park on February 20, it will mark their first foray into the Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League since 2011, and just a third appearance in the region’s top club competition.
To be entirely accurate, the Rapids have previously played once in the Champions League and once in the Champions Cup. The Champions Cup ran from 1962 to 2008, before the competition was re-branded and re-launched.
Having finished runners-up in the 1997 MLS Cup, the Rapids made their debut in the Champions Cup on June 28, 1998 at Mile High Stadium. Mexican outfit Club León were the opponents, and were defeated 1-0 courtesy of a late goal from substitute Marcelo Balboa, himself a former León player.
Unfortunately, the Rapids would not progress beyond the qualifying playoff round in 1998. They lost the away leg 4-2, to go out 4-3 on aggregate. Steve Trittschuh scored a goal at both ends of the field within the space of three first half minutes.
Notable names in the Rapids side for their Champions Cup bow were Marcus Hahnemann, Peter Vermes, Chris Henderson, Paul Bravo, and Chris Martinez.
It would be another 13 years before the Rapids returned to what had become the CONCACAF Champions League. Between August 17 and October 19, 2011, the Rapids played six group games, against teams from Mexico, Honduras and El Salvador.
They opened their Champions League account at home to Isidro Metapán of El Salvador, and enjoyed a 3-2 win following goals from Macoumba Kandji (2) and Andre Akpan. They would also win in El Salvador (3-1) through Eddie Ababio, Quincy Amarikwa, and Omar Cummings. That return match, on September 28, 2011, would mark a first team debut for the club’s first homegrown player, Davy Armstrong, who replaced Ababio with 27 minutes remaining.
Unfortunately, it was the Rapids’ home form which halted their progress. They lost their two other games in Commerce City, to Santos Laguna (4-1) and Real España (2-1).
That narrow reversal against Honduras club side Real España remains the last Champions League match played at DICK’S Sporting Goods Park, on September 21.
Two players started all six group games during the 2011 Champions league push. They were Scott Palguta and Wells Thompson. Goalkeeper Steward Ceus was in from the start in five.
Though no player remains at the Rapids from the Champions League campaign of 2011, they are likely to face Drew Moor when tackling Toronto. Moor was part of the starting lineup for the Rapids’ last Champions League game, a 2-0 loss at Santos Laguna.
Of those on the 2018 Rapids roster, only Edgar Castillo and Jack McBean have CONCACAF Champions League experience. Castillo was with Tijuana, during which time he also played in South America’s equivalent, the Copa Libertadores. McBean finished as LA Galaxy’s leading scorer in their 2012 campaign, with three goals in two games.
Tim Howard and Shkëlzen Gashi, meanwhile, have played in the UEFA Champions League. Howard featured for Manchester United, with Gashi stepping out for both Grasshopper Zurich and Basel respectively. Nana Boateng was on the bench for both legs of Strømsgodset IF’s second qualifying round match against Steaua Bucharest in 2014.