EDITORIAL – With the Sports World still shutdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, March, April, and May have been the months of “let’s reair classic sports games. Oh and ESPN releasing The Last Dance. MLS as a league and its individual teams have aired replays of classic games, from significant games that transcended the league and soccer world, to historical games and MLS Cups. Having watched a few Colorado Rapids classic games, it’s worth reflecting on the history of the league and team.
Reflecting on Rewatching Colorado Rapids Classic Games
In the last few weeks, I have watched several classic Rapids games. There was the first home game, April 21, 1996, a 3-1 win against the Dallas Burn, now known as FC Dalls. There was the first ever game at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, April 7, 2007, a 2-1 win over D.C. United.
I’ve also spent a significant amount of time rewatching highlights from the 1997 MLS Cup, a 2-1 loss at D.C. United, and the 2010 MLS Cup, a 2-1 win over FC Dallas in extra time.
Firstly, it’s worth acknowledging that the quality of play has improved. The Rapids home opener was not the best soccer I’ve ever watched. Both teams were pretty direct. Colorado went Route One through the air. Dallas kept the ball on the ground but both teams were looking upfield all the time.
My biggest takeaway was how Colorado’s style and themes have been similar over the years. This club has always been defense first. Work hard, grind out results, #KeepFighting, and get results against teams with more money and more talent.
Especially in the MLS 1.0 and 2.0 Eras, the play was very physical. For the level of quality relative to other leagues, players have never much time on the ball. There were tackles that weren’t fouls in 1996 that would be yellows today. Some regular old fouls in 1996 would be a red card today.
The league was competitive in those years, more so than today if you ask me. Was it good soccer? No. But the product was competitive and entertaining in that it was competitive.
I don’t think there’s been a time when the Rapids haven’t had a hard working and underappreciated holding midfielder. Marcelo Balboa playing out of position in the MLS 1.0 Era at times, Jeff Larentowicz, Kyle Beckerman, to the more recent Sam Cronin and Jack Price.
There’s also usually been a fun, sometimes raw, often mercurial wide player or playmaker. Jean Harbor fit that description on the home opener. Mark Chung was that at times, though he became very good and consistent. Herc Gomez had a great performance in the first game at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park.
Connecting the Present to the Past
The Rapids haven’t always been good. They’ve rarely played “entertaining attacking possession soccer.” But the themes that embodied the 2016 team existed long before that year. And there’s many similarities between the team’s original ethos and the modern club.
One thing that is obvious from watching these past games is that the Rapids also haven’t been competitive for much of their history. The club long has struggled for relevance and attention in the Front Range and nationally.
It’s the task of current regime to break some of those trends with the pivot of the Rapids Way. As the Seattle Sounders and Atletico Madrid of the world have shown, being pragmatic can still win the day. The 2010 MLS Cup Champions epitomized pragmatism.
We’ll see whether the Rapids can honor the past and build upon it by changing some of the flaws that have plagued the club throughout the last quarter century.