If there was arguably one turning point in the 2018 season for the Colorado Rapids, then it will have been the trip to Real Salt Lake on April 21.
The Rapids were unbeaten in four games heading to Utah, sitting on a 2-1-2 record.
During the first 20 minutes we witnessed some of the most aggressive and dominant soccer seen from a Rapids side inside Rio Tinto Stadium.
Then Tim Howard was sent off.
20' - Tim Howard sees red for a hand ball outside the box, Rapids down to 10 men.— Colorado Rapids (@ColoradoRapids) April 22, 2018
0-0 | #Rapids96 | #RSLvCOL
📝 Game Tracker: https://t.co/16tWqumG3i pic.twitter.com/ruj5eQeRlZ
Despite being reduced to 10 men, the visitors held out until the 82nd minute, before giving up a penalty which was tucked away by Joao Plata. Two more goals would follow, as the Rapids returned defeated by three goals to nil.
It was the start of a slide, and a slide which the Rapids would never fully recover from. Between April 21 and June 9, the Rapids went 0-8-0. They also tumbled out of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, losing in Nashville.
The Rapids rallied the remaining games of June, and began July with only a third-ever win, and first-ever shutout, at Vancouver Whitecaps FC.
July would also include a return trip to Salt Lake City, where defeat would keep the Rocky Mountain Cup in the hands of RSL. There was a moment in this encounter which could have more far-reaching consequences than the previous meeting, as the Rapids emerged from a lengthy weather delay in what would become their preferred 4-4-2 diamond formation.
From 2-0 down, the Rapids would surprise their hosts, scoring twice inside the RioT for the first time. This included an 88th minute leveler from Dillon Serna, which kept the Rocky Mountain Cup alive.
Back-to-back home wins to start August offered hope of a belated playoff push. Even twice coming from behind to tie at LA Galaxy - the first time the Rapids had managed more than a goal at the Galaxy since 2010 - suggested something special down the stretch.
But the August 19 trip to Los Angeles Football Club, and a 2-0 loss, would trigger a seven-game losing streak and end hope of postseason participation.
During that run, the Rocky Mountain Cup would return to Utah with RSL after a heavy home reversal.
Throughout the season, a season of ultimate disappointment, there would be moments. Among them a return to play in the CONCACAF Champions League, where the Rapids came unstuck over two legs to Toronto FC.
There was then a goal just moments after coming on in the season opener at New England Revolution for rookie striker Niki Jackson. His glancing header was the club’s 900th goal of all-time.
Dominique Badji would depart for Dallas mid-season, switching places with Kellyn Acosta, but not before netting a hat-trick in a 3-0 home win over Philadelphia Union on March 31. This was the club’s first MLS hat-trick since Sanna Nyassi in 2011.
For only the fourth time in his MLS career - and a first occasion in the colors of Colorado - goalkeeper Tim Howard recorded doubt digit saves in a game during 2018. He denied the Whitecaps 10 times in the 1-0 win at BC Place on July 1. Only once in his MLS career had he made more saves, when making 11 for the MetroStars at the Revolution in 2003.
The arrival of US international Acosta mid-season gave the burgundy boys a lift. He scored a wonderful goal on his debut, which was a mixed affair for the midfielder. He had earlier missed a penalty, and D.C. United would go on to win 2-1, with newcomer Wayne Rooney scoring his first goal in MLS.
Acosta followed this with a rifling drive at home the following week as the Galaxy were sent packing 2-1.
But the story of the season came late in the day as, with eyes beginning to gaze toward 2019, a young man who began the year in the Development Academy and filled his gamedays at DICK’S Sporting Goods Park as part of the stretcher crew, came to the fore.
Cole Bassett signed a Homegrown contract on August 10, and sat on the bench for the home win over San Jose Earthquakes the following day. He made his MLS debut as a substitute at the Portland Timbers on September 8, aged 17 years and 42 days, thereby becoming the youngest player in club history.
71' - Special moment as @colebassett19 becomes the youngest player in club history to make his Rapids debut!— Colorado Rapids (@ColoradoRapids) September 9, 2018
2-0 | #Rapids96 | #PORvCOL
📝 Game tracker: https://t.co/AulaVSd4Fz pic.twitter.com/b0RnP0yozc
He made his first start in the 2-0 win at Minnesota United FC on October 13, but saved the best ‘til last. On the final day of the regular season, the Littleton teenager scored the equalizer against FC Dallas - a game the Rapids would win 2-1.
In the space of two-and-a-half months, Cole Bassett had gone from young hopeful watching from the wings, to a player who offered a glimpse of the future. That future was also on display in the penultimate match of the season, a goalless draw at the Quakes on October 21. A record-breaking three Homegrown players started the game - Bassett, Dillon Serna, and Kortne Ford - before Sam Vines made his MLS debut as a halftime substitute to raise the number of Homegrown players on the field at the same time to four, another club high.
As stories go, it was far from the happy ending most had sought. It was more a cliff-hanger, leaving us eager to know what 2019 will bring.