The Colorado Rapids had high hopes when they departed for Orlando. In the few weeks since, their momentum has been crushed, leaving behind more questions than answers.
Head coach Robin Fraser took over near the end of last season, and the club finished strong under his stewardship. That energy carried into 2020 as the Rapids opened 2-0-0, making them 7-2-0 in the boss’ first nine matches.
Then came COVID-19, an extended pause in play, and this month’s disappointing showing at the MLS is Back Tournament.
A lackluster effort in a 2-0 loss to Real Salt Lake set the tone early. Days later, two conceded goals and red cards during a disastrous 10-minute stretch resulted in a 3-2 loss to Sporting Kansas City. While the 2-2 draw against Minnesota United FC ensured the Rapids didn’t go home empty-handed, it was of little solace for a club considered a pre-tournament dark horse.
“I look at this as a constant building process and there were a lot of lessons learned while we were here,” Fraser said. “There are some things that we did well and some of the things we didn’t do well.”
What’s crept in for the Rapids is a number of concerning trends. The team has conceded too many goals after an offseason spent bolstering the backline. They came out flat in one game and had a pair of extended lapses in the other two, putting the Rapids’ mental approach into question. And Fraser is still struggling to find the right mix at forward.
Through five games this season, the Rapids have allowed nine goals — tied for sixth-worst in MLS — with the offseason additions in the back yet to make an impact.
Free agent Drew Moor started the first game in Orlando, but did not look himself and sat the second. Auston Trusty, acquired in a trade, debuted in the second game and was inconsequential. And first-round pick Jeremy Kelly started the opener but was subbed off after 74 minutes and didn’t see the field the rest of the tournament.
Even more troubling, the last two games featured a pair of 10-minute stretches where the Rapids conceded two goals in quick succession — a few errors leading to a snowball effect.
“Once one call goes the wrong way or one result goes the wrong way you start to figure out that everything is not going to go your way,” Jonathan Lewis said postgame Wednesday. “We’ve got to work even harder to just get what we want.
“These last two games going against very good teams we were the more dominant team. We did some brilliant stuff and all, but just little mistakes.”
Lewis’ play in particular has put pressure on Fraser’s usage of his forwards. The 23-year-old leads the Rapids in goals, but has yet to play 90 minutes this season, let alone start. The aging Kei Kamara, veteran Diego Rubio and second-year star Andre Shinyashiki are all battling for the striker spot.
Muddling things even more, the Rapids’ big offseason splash, Younes Namli, played the last two games out of position on the wing. Normally an attacking midfielder, Namli has been good. So, too, has winger Nicolas Benezet. Nicolás Mezquida has come off the bench in every game, while Braian Galván debuted in Florida.
That’s eight players fighting for time at four spots. FIFA’s new rule for 2020 allowing up to five substitutes instead of three has helped Fraser spread around playing time. Now it’s just a matter of using each player at the correct time — a recipe that appears to be a work in progress.
The final for the MLS is Back Tournament is Aug. 11. The date of the Rapids’ next match is unknown. The Athletic reported Friday that MLS has a tentative plan for a resumption of the regular season starting Aug. 22. This would force the Rapids into another long layoff with a month between matches.
“It’s uncharted waters for everybody the couple of months that we’ve had off,” Moor said. “I imagine workouts and practices will be the same moving forward as we had before the tournament. We need to regroup and take the lessons from the games that we played in Florida.”