A team that was victorious in the previous season’s championship match. A team that retained every starter from their championship victory. A team that decided to not just sit on victory, but a team that decided to make several off-season signings to add to their proven roster. Wouldn’t you think that a team like this would have an easy path to next year’s title? Sure, but this is soccer and the reason that we all love it is because of its absolute unpredictability. This story isn’t just a wild rambling about a random storyline, but it is the situation that the Colorado Rapids find themselves in this season.
With the MLS playoffs not guaranteeing them a qualifying spot because of their position, but their points total almost assuring them entry because of the low point totals in the seemingly weaker Eastern Division, the Rapids are hoping that they can prove that it doesn’t matter how you get in but how proceed after you gain entry. The Rapids are basically assured a playoff berth, unlike many of the other teams at this point in the season, and they have played one more game than most of the MLS jersey clad league which gives their points total a bit of a “false” boost.
When the Rapids do start preparing for the playoffs, their main concern should be their porous defense. They have allowed the second most goals amongst Western Conference teams in playoff contention. A future thought is that they may bring back past goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann in order to shore up their defense, but that isn’t going to help them in the play-offs. Can their defense get them through a wild-card game and the entirety of the play-offs? Their current form might just push them through; they’ve snagged two wins and a draw in the last five games, which is more momentum that many of their more successful Western counterparts can claim.
The attacking form of the Rapids leaves a little to be desired, with their season only resulting in a +2 goal differential at this point in the season. Their talismanic front man, Conor Casey has never been the most prolific or “mold-fitting” striker, but with his experience he will most assuredly be starting in every playoff game. He proved a vital part of last year’s championship final victory, but I don’t know how much longer he can handle the physical demands that his style of play demands. Is it time to go all in with Caleb Folan, the Irish international? With midfield maestro Pablo Mastroeni being keyed in on by most teams when they line up against the Rapids, Colorado will need goals to come from unlikely places if they hope to run through the tournament again this season.
The Rapids will also hope that their playoff trek leads them as far away from red hot soccer shoes of Seattle and L.A. as possible, since Colorado hasn’t defeated either team in all four meetings in the regular season. They also are probably hoping that they don’t see FC Dallas in the playoffs, since they narrowly defeated Dallas in the final last season, and Dallas has proved that they know how to exact revenge. In their first meeting since the Rapid’s championship success, FC Dallas ripped them in a 3-0 loss for Colorado. They might be hoping to get on the Eastern Conference side of things since most of their success has come outside the confines of the Western Conference.
Will they repeat? Will they even make it out of the first round? Will Conor Casey still look like a human bulldozer this offseason? The best part of these questions is that we really won’t have any clue until we finally get the playoffs underway. Good luck to the Rapids this year, and everyone loves a champion that still shows the hunger for more trophies.
Written by: Andrew McCole, MLS correspondent, soccerpro.com
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