EDITORIAL – We are entering the third week of Major League Soccer’s suspension of play due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In an effort to produce some evergreen content, Last Word on Soccer will be taking a look at several MLS teams and their Mount Rushmore, Decade Best XI, etc. Today I’ll be taking a look at the all-time Colorado Rapids Mount Rushmore.
Colorado Rapids Mount Rushmore
The Rapids are a founding member of MLS and 2010 MLS Cup Champions. They also made the final in 1997 and the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Final in 1999. Despite not having a storied history compared to some larger market teams and other MLS originals, Colorado has had several big players who’ve made an impact on the pitch and elsewhere.
This first one has no argument. Pablo Mastroeni holds the club records for starts, caps, and minutes played. He spent 12 season (2002-13) as a player in Burgundy and Blue and captained them to the 2010 MLS Cup. The Argentina-born American International has 95 caps with the United States Men’s National Team. He made the 2002 and 2006 World Cup teams and won the Concacaf Gold Cup three times.
After retiring at the end of 2013, Mastroeni took over as Head Coach of the Rapids. He amassed a record of 46-58-41 and lead the Rapids to their best regular season in club history in 2016, when they were a game away each from winning the Supporters’ Shield and making MLS Cup.
As a player and coach, Mastroeni embodied all the qualities Colorado Rapids stand for and succeed upon. He was physical, gritty, and outworked everyone. Put more simply, he was #KeepFighting. His #25 jersey is scheduled to be retired at Colorado’s 4th of July home match. If anyone is Mr. Rapid, it’s him. He’s a member of the Gallery of Honor and if anyone deserves to have the first statue outside Dick’s Sporting Goods Club, it’s him.
Another easy choice. Marcelo Balboa was a 1994 World Cup veteran and Liga MX starter when he returned to Colorado to join the Rapids in their inaugural season. He had previous roots in the state having played for the Colorado Foxes in the APSL. Celo scored the first goal in club history in a 3-1 win over the Dallas Burn.
He anchored the back line from 1996-2001 as well as he did with the USMNT at two World Cups and the 1995 Copa America. He was a rock at the back and a dangerous goalscorer with his feet and in the air by center back standards. He captained the team for three seasons. Since retiring as a player, he’s had a role in the front office and currently coaches in the academy and works as a color commentator for the club and with Univision.
Conor Casey is the all-time leading goal scorer in club history, scoring 50 goals in 199 games from 2007-2012. He’s the best No. 9 to ever wear the Burgundy and Blue. He scored double digit goals in three of his five seasons in Colorado and scored one of the two goals in MLS Cup 2010.
Like Balboa, Casey’s one of the best domestic players for the Rapids to also have a good playing resume abroad. He turned professional, signed with Borussia Dortmund out of college after the 2000 Olympics. He had good stints with Mainz 05 and Karlsruher SC.
Casey returned to Colorado as an assistant coach in 2017 then was appointed interim manager last summer. He went 7-5-7, stabilizing the club at a turbulent time, and creating a good environment for Robin Fraser to take over as permanent Head Coach. He was a good soldier on the field and sideline.
The fourth member of the Colorado Rapids Mount Rushmore is a tougher pick. Mastroeni and Balboa are Abraham Lincoln and George Washington respectively. Casey has a leg up on the other players because of his goal record and coaching efforts. Similar to Casey, I’ve picked Paul Bravo because of his efforts on and off the pitch.
Bravo came to the club at the end of his prime, playing from 1997-2001. He played in 135 games (9th all-time), recording 39 goals (tied for 2nd) and 22 assists (8th). He was the closest thing the Rapids had to a central attacking playmaker/No. 10 in the MLS 1.0 Era.
He moved on to the front office in 2009 and was Technical Director until 2017. He was a part of several moves that assembled the MLS Cup Championship team in 2010. He assembled a young team alongside Head Coach Oscar Pareja that returned to the playoffs in 2013, including the drafting Dillon Powers and Deshorn Brown who finished first and second in the Rookie of the Year voting that year. Like the other three players on Mount Rushmore, he’s a member of Colorado’s Gallery of Honor.
Last Word: Honorable Mentions
Chris Henderson and John Spencer are the other two members of the club’s Gallery of Honor. Henderson was the second most significant player in the 90s for Colorado besides Balboa. John Spencer probably had the best outside-MLS resume of any international player on the club when he signed and put up good numbers as a striker.
Omar Cummings was a great striker partner for Casey around the Cup year. He and Spencer might have made Mount Rushmore had they been at the club a bit longer and keep up their scoring rate. Matt Pickens and Marvell Wynne had good tenures in the Centennial State and were well liked by the fans.
If any current Burgundy Boy has a chance unseat Bravo, it’s Drew Moor. If the 2020 season ends up still being 34 games and he comes back for another year, he’s got a chance to pass Mastroeni’s play time records. He was on 2010 MLS Cup team and was an All-Star for Colorado in 2015. If he’s a starter the rest of his time with the Rapids, retires with the club, and they have any success as a team, Moor has a good argument to make the Rapids Mount Rushmore.