In six of the last nine Major League Soccer seasons, Colorado Rapids have failed to reach the playoffs. Since winning the MLS Cup in 2010 against FC Dallas, the Rapids have made the playoffs twice, and in each of those five seasons, finished fifth or lower in the MLS’s Western Conference.
The 2016 season has been surprisingly different, especially after so many fans, journalists and pundits called for coach Pablo Mastroeni’s firing after two less than impressive seasons. The former Rapids’ player has got the ship straightened out for the moment, with Colorado pushing the top of MLS’s overall points table for the Supporters’ Shield.
This week, World Soccer Talk looks at 5 reasons Colorado Rapids are Major League Soccer Supporters’ Shield contenders in 2016.
Offseason signings paying off
Eyes rolled when Colorado signed Jermaine Jones and Marco Pappa in the MLS offseason. Not only would Jones be suspended for the opening of the MLS season, but his bloated contract and age were turn offs to nearly every team in MLS. At 34-years old and pulling in $650,000, the Rapids didn’t blink, bringing in the US international as an anchor in the team’s spine. In eight matches, Jones has three goals and an assist to go along with a 75% pass success rate and nearly two tackles per game average, according to WhoScored.com. His veteran leadership, however, is something that cannot be calculated, as the former Schalke man has lead by example this season. Pappa had plenty of off the pitch problems last winter. Those seem to be behind him now as the Guatemalan has been the creative spark in a mostly defensive side. Two goals and three assists in 12 matches has Pappa contending for MLS Comeback Player of the Year.
The Colorado attack doesn’t score many goals. Only 16 goals have been scored from open play. However, the Rapids have been deadly at set pieces with six goals from free-kicks or corners. The Rapids may only be middle of the road in terms of set piece goals – New York Red Bulls have tallied 14 – but the Rapids’ ability to keep clean sheets and score from set pieces make them frustrating to beat. Some may call it anti-football to defend and win games on set pieces, but Colorado calls it success in 2016.
It isn’t Colorado’s attack that will beat teams, rather it is the club’s defense. Compact and aggressive, the team wins the ball and builds its attacks through its more creative players – Pappa and Shkelzen Gashi. The Rapids have given up the fewest goals in MLS with 13. Only twice in 2016 has Colorado’s defense given up more than two goals in a match. One was against Montreal Impact in which the clubs drew 2-2. The other was against Vancouver Whitecaps when the clubs finished tied at two in July. The Rapids have kept eight clean sheets and have recently added the experience of Tim Howard to its roster. Howard has already kept two shutouts since arriving in the summer transfer window.