Through all the challenges of 2020 – all the unexpected breaks in play, and the unusual circumstances surrounding training and matches when play resumed – the goal of qualifying for the playoffs never changed. With tonight’s win over Portland, the Rapids found a way to clinch a playoff spot for the 14th time in club history.
One point would have done it, but Kellyn Acosta fired his second goal of the season to secure all three points as the Rapids posted their fourth clean sheet in their last eight games.
“Just incredible resilience, even as we started to get pinned back you could see our guys continue to fight,” head coach Robin Fraser said after the match. “The goal was an incredible effort by a number of players to create it and then the composure by Kellyn to finish it was fantastic. I’m just really proud of the team. They’ve dealt with a lot. To really earn this playoff spot is really rewarding for them.”
That Colorado qualified for the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs should come as no surprise. The Rapids have found their identity under head coach Robin Fraser, who led the Rapids to a 5-2-0 record after joining the team in August 2019, finishing just two spots outside the playoffs.
This year, the progress has continued.
The Rapids started 2020 with two promising wins before the pandemic halted soccer – and life in general. Two more month-long pauses disrupted their rhythm, but Colorado made several statement wins along the way. The Rapids dismantled Real Salt Lake and San Jose by 5-0 score lines – and won the Rocky Mountain Cup in the process – before smoothly dispatching defending champion Seattle Sounders FC on Sunday.
Then, of course, was tonight’s clean sheet victory.
“For me, it hasn’t really settled in until now. This is a big moment for us as players, for the fans, the organization,” Acosta said. “To be back in the playoffs is exciting times but we still have one more game left to end the season and then go into playoffs.”
Shrewd acquisitions in recent years have brought in a core of veteran experience. Captain Jack Price’s free kick deliveries have been a boon. Acosta and defenders Keegan Rosenberry and Lalas Abubakar brought over 200 MLS appearances with them when they joined the team, and along with 26-year-old Designated Player Younes Namli, they’ve anchored one of the youngest squads in MLS.
Homegrown midfielder Cole Bassett has taken off since he turned 19 in July, putting up five goals and three assists in 11 games. Andre Shinyashiki, the reigning AT&T MLS Rookie of the Year out of the University of Denver, has four goals and an assist in his last seven games. 23-year-old Jonathan Lewis has five goals, which, along with Bassett, lead the team.
And then there’s Sam Vines, the 21-year-old Homegrown defender who’s played every minute at left back for the Rapids this season. Fraser has repeatedly praised Vines improved defending, and the Colorado Springs native has turned in three assists and his first career goal since the beginning of September.
“You can see that we’re building and we have something special going on here,” Acosta said.
Colorado’s success in 2020 reflects the plan laid out by Rapids Executive Vice President and General Manager Pádriag Smith and Senior Vice President of Business Operations Wayne Brant in the summer of 2017.
“Ultimately, though, our goal for this club is to be a perennial playoff team who regularly competes for trophies,” they wrote. “At the end of the day, everything we do is about putting ourselves in a position to win an MLS Cup. We want to bring another trophy home to Colorado.”