The MLS is Back Tournament in Orlando didn't go the way the Colorado Rapids wanted, but the challenges the team faced - and were able to overcome - set them up for a much-anticipated remainder of the regular season.
After a subpar showing against Real Salt Lake in their opening match, the Rapids rebounded with a strong performance against Sporting Kansas City. Against SKC, Colorado was undoubtably the dominant team before two red cards sealed their fate. In the final matchup against Minnesota, one of the four teams left in the league without a regular-season loss, Colorado finished clawed back to secure a 2-2 draw.
All three results left the side wanting more, but head coach Robin Fraser doesn't think of the tournament as a loss.
“For me, I came out of the tournament excited," Fraser said. “I saw a great response, which just further speaks to the character of the team. And, part of it is that they’re really getting to know themselves and what makes them good.”
Character is a huge part of the foundation of this team, which consistently touts that its whole is far greater than the sum of its parts. That was put to the test in a new way in Orlando. Going into the tournament, the club was labeled a tournament 'dark horse’ contender and experts were predicting big things despite a difficult Group D.
“When you’re starting to build as a team, there are no expectations," Fraser said. "There’s no one paying attention to you. But, before you know it, you’re considered a good team, and once you’re considered a good team, there are expectations now."
This presented a new dynamic for the team to overcome.
“The reality is, there’s a slight difference when you’re playing with expectations. I’ve seen it with teams that are growing, there comes a point when you have expectations to do well, and your self belief continues to grow. I’m not 100% sure how much that had to do with [the first game], but it was certainly different, we weren’t flying under the radar as we had been for the last year or so.”
So what comes next?
The league is working closely with its teams, local government officials and health authorities in hopes of completing a revised regular season schedule, which will subsequently conclude with the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs and MLS Cup.
Currently, the Rapids are back to training in Colorado. They’re in yet another unusual circumstance, with plenty of time to prepare for their next match – for the third time this season.
“In a way, it’s like preseason again, but it’s a little more specified than the regular preseason because once you start the preseason you have a little bit of everything," Fraser explained. "We’ll continue to work on everything, but we feel there are certain things that coming out of the tournament that we’ve identified that if we can get better at this, this is going to be a huge change for us.”
The team is now ready to get back to playing, and it’s because of Orlando that they are confident they will be prepared.
“The approach has got to be, we’ve seen if we’re a little less than sharp, how bad we can be, and we’ve seen if we’re sharp, how good we can be," Fraser said. "And it’s now about being sharp and getting the details right, and really getting into this last part of the season feeling like we’ve done the learning we need to do to be a significant team in the league.”