The 2016 Colorado Rapids Were not a Fluke

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CARSON, CA - OCTOBER 30: The Starting XI of the Colorado Rapids poses for a group photo prior to leg one of the Audi 2016 MLS Cup Playoff Western Conference Semfinal between the Colorado Rapids and the Los Angeles Galaxy at StubHub Center on October 30, 2016 in Carson, California. (Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images)

Editorial (January 28, 2018) – The 2018 Major League Soccer is upon us. The Colorado Rapids have been working around the clock this off-season to rebuild the team and improve on what has been a poor three years out of four. The loan success in that time was the 2016 season. Many passive observers in the American Soccer landscape have called the 2016 Colorado Rapids a fluke. They were not.

The 2016 Colorado Rapids Were not a Fluke

The 2016 Colorado Rapids were a simple but effective team. They did a lot of things really well: they played defense, got clean sheets, were organized and motivated, and won close one goal games late. They just didn’t score a lot or have much variety in their play. Opponents knew what how they would play. They just weren’t able to stop them.

Head Coach Pablo Mastroeni kept things simple. The team built on their defensive low-block style of play. He built a culture around #KeepFighting and everyone outside the locker room doubting them. He outlined a plan, got out of the way, and let the leaders lead.

Sam Cronin and Michael Azira led the midfield. Jones and Kevin Doyle did enough offensively. The workman like backline of no-names were one of the best defenses in MLS history. The one inconsistency might have been Zac MacMath in goal, but then Tim Howard came in mid-season as a Designated Player.

Combined with a handful of strikers who could trade off being on form so someone was always scoring the goals and you’ve got a playoff team. Not a dominant team or a cup favorite, but a playoff team that plays tough in cold weather in November and on the road.

Make no mistake, had they stayed together they wouldn’t have been a dynasty. That team was good for a three year window of being a perennial playoff team that no favorite would want to play come November. They wouldn’t have been a favorite for the Supporter’s Shield. Maybe they upset a big money team and make it to a final.

But the notion many have that the team should have been bottom of the table is wrong. Jermaine Jones was exactly what that team was missing when they started preseason. While he only played in nine games for the club, he was the determining factor for most of those. Furthermore, he fit in perfectly with the Pablo Mastroeni coached team and the #KeepFigthing mentality.

Then the 2017 season came along. As Sporting Director Padraig Smith has talked about in the past, the Rapids Way was already in transition in 2017. The team made a few moves to take one step backwards so they could leap forward in the coming years. They infamously traded away Cronin and Marc Burch in the early season, removing the spine of the defense.

As soon as that happened, Nana Boateng had to be the man. He injured his back shortly after that and took the rest of the season getting settled. The club did set themselves up to get a quality attacking piece in the summer window. That turned into Stefan Aigner, but by the time he arrived, the season was all but lost.

Casual observers will look at the 2014-2017 seasons and just think that 2016 was an aberration. Taking a deeper look, the Rapids built up to 2016. The 2016 season was an over-achievement based on their on-paper talent. A number of events tore down what that team had built up over several seasons. That caused the 2017 failures.

The 2016 Colorado Rapids overachieved, but they were not a fluke. Nor was that team poorly constructed for what they were trying to be. Will the club’s decisions to go away from that philosophy and thus sacrifice last season pay off this year? We’ll have to wait and see.

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