They say the playoffs are for teams on their best run of form. After all the tribulations of this year, the Colorado Rapids begin their Audi 2020 MLS Cup Playoff run flying high.
Colorado won its last three games of the regular season, defeating Seattle, Portland and Houston to clinch the fifth seed in the Western Conference. Heading into Sunday’s first-round match at Minnesota, the focus for Rapids head coach Robin Fraser has been gaining advantages.
“In terms of moving the ball quickly, what sort of pressure we expect from them and how we hopefully can deal with it,” Fraser said during Thursday’s virtual press conference. “It’s just simulating as much of that as possible and really just continuing to work day in and day out on the things that we think make us decent.”
Fluidity in the attack and organized defending have been key for Colorado down the stretch. In their three wins to close the regular season, six different players scored for Colorado, with three more adding assists. The Rapids three-man midfield kept two of the league’s highest-scoring teams largely at bay, and the back line cleaned up almost everything else.
More impressive perhaps is that the Rapids are putting together such strong performances on the road. No team in MLS has won more games as the visitor than Colorado.
“It speaks a lot about the resilience of the group,” Fraser said. “In a year with so many ups and downs, really the thing we talk about most on this team is just getting on with it. We didn’t have many home games down the stretch and no one cried about it.
“At the end of the day, that mentality has served us well and will continue to serve us well.”
Mental strength is important for every game, but in playoffs, the pressure is amplified. Homegrown midfielder Cole Bassett is one of several young Rapids preparing himself for his first career playoff game. The 19-year-old said Thursday that the veterans haven’t given them playoff advice yet, but he’s confident in their preparedness for what’s to come.
This week, MLS announced players away on international duty would be able to ride charter flights to rejoin their teams. The Rapids will prepare to face a full-strength Loons side featuring Jan Gregus, Robin Lod, Romain Metanire and former Rapid Kei Kamara.
“At the end of the day it is another game. It is an important game, but we can’t get too nervous or too worked up about the game,” Bassett said. “I think that conversation will come because there’s a different type of pressure in the playoffs and you have to win to keep going, but I think we’re just going to go out there and enjoy it.”
For a team that relies so much on youth – 16 of Colorado’s 32 goals this season were scored by players aged 23 or younger, the highest percentage in the league – veteran experience will also be important. Fraser mentioned captain Jack Price, goalkeepers William Yarbrough and Clint Irwin, defender Drew Moor, who won MLS Cup with Colorado in 2010, and Designated Player Younes Namli among several players that bring valuable experience and leadership to the locker room.
“And really, all those names I mentioned, I could mention more,” Fraser said. “The biggest characteristic of all those guys is that they’re incredibly unselfish. And that for them, the success of the team comes far before individual success. When your leaders carry that attitude, it’s a great example for our younger players, and we have a very young team. We have a lot of young guys who have good leaders to learn from and the chemistry of it has been great.”
The Colorado Rapids visit Minnesota United FC on Sunday, Nov. 22, at 5:30 p.m. MT on ESPN, ESPN Deportes and Altitude Sports Radio 92.5 FM.