With the Rapids coming to town on Sunday, I got with Johnny Rosch from the Rapids SB Nation blog, The Burgundy Wave. We exchanged questions about what we can expect to see this weekend.
Here are your Three Questions But Really Six
We ask them...
The Blue Testament: Two years ago fans were boycotting the Rapids and your blog was very critical of the organization as well. Then just like that the Rapids were in the semifinals last season. This wasn't seen as a fluke, right? Is everyone back on board? What changed within the club/front office if anything?
John Rosch: The biggest off-season question that was on the minds of many Rapids fan was the fluke question. Was 2016 a precursor to great things that would see the Rapids join the elite clubs in MLS, or was it everyone overachieving and 2017 would be regression to the mean? I think that there are several groups of fans out there that have very different takes on it. Some are of the mindset that regression has to happen. There is no chance that we can achieve the same level of success. There are some who expect the same thing as 2017 and are predicting high playoff seeds and an MLS Cup. And then there are those who come out to see big names and don't really care for results.
Basically, supporters are all over the map.
As for the Front Office, they have been (rightfully) roasted by Burgundy Wave and others for their ineptitude and poor decision making over the last half of a decade. But last year things seem to click and they found the formula that led to winning (albeit dreadfully boring to watch soccer) and getting people to the park. There are those who feel the stadium is in the middle of nowhere, but last year proved, put a winning product on the field, and people will come.
The Front Office had a pretty massive change as Technical Director Paul Bravo left the club in the off-season, but even that was not a massive surprise. Bravo was a good architect, but many of the decisions on player acquisition are being made by Padraig Smith, Sporting Director of the Rapids and it is hard to argue with the success.
But the biggest change the Front Office made was bringing in Tim Howard. He was a big name that made the Rapids "must watch" for people in Denver and on the road. Now, was he an upgrade over Zac MacMath? In the goalkeeping department? Nope. But from a marketing/business/advertising department? Hell yes.
TBT: The Rapids have only played three matches and they have been on a three week break. But please jump to a ridiculous conclusion and tell me if they are better or worse than last year - and if they will get to MLS Cup.
JR: Right now, the Rapids are not better than they were in 2016 and they will not get to MLS Cup. They have managed just six shots on goal in their three and gave up two terrible goals to a horrific Minnesota United team in their last match. This does not feel like an MLS Cup winning squad and has the feel, again right now, of a team that will have to fight to make the playoffs.
TBT: Last year Colorado was only able to score more goals than one team in all of MLS, but they also conceded less than everyone. Can we expect to see that same style of play this year?
JR: It is all up to the Evolution of Pablo (I should totally trademark that). Clearly, the Rapids can play defense and will shut down any team in Major League Soccer. But, and this is a known known, you have to score goals. The Rapids are, again, struggling in that department. Pablo Mastroeni needs to evolve and become a more well versed manager in the offensive side of the game. The Rapids have spent a ton of money this season and they expect to win. It could be squeaky bum time for Pablo if they still can't score goals.
They ask us...
Burgundy Wave: Sporting got completely hosed when they bowed out of the 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs. How did that sit with the club and what have they done to ensure that doesn't happen again?
Cody Bradley: Well at the risk of stating the obvious - it did not sit well. The club has branded itself as a top-class, trophy-winning team and the fans have high standards. Most of the people you talk to around here would simply roll their eyes at six straight playoff appearances at this point. There was big roster turnover this year and Vermes brought reinforcements almost everywhere.
Gerso comes to us as a DP bringing tons of speed and creativity on the wing. 19 year old Latif Blessing is another newcomer up front. He is still very green but he has a lot of people excited. The holding midfield position is incredibly important to Peter Vermes' system and he found somebody he likes even more than Soni Mustivar (who Vermes claimed a couple years ago was the MVP of the team). Ilie Sanchez has been brilliant at the back of the midfield in his first MLS matches. In his switch to right-back, I am even going to count Graham Zusi as defensive reinforcements. All of a sudden the back line has an incredible cohesiveness that's been built from years of playing together.
In addition to the bigger moves there were plenty of moves to the depth chart. Vermes now has options that he would have dreamed of last year.
BW: Sporting is 1-0-3 on the year and seem to be playing well...but only have one win to show for it. What is going right and what is going wrong?
CB: Despite all the new help, they still can't score. Basically everything is going right (enough) except one last final touch. SKC has scored one goal this year (and were gifted another). You can see the team is better than last year for so many reasons, but it’s that same story. They create all the chances in the world and limit the opponent to a few, but they can't figure out how to put a match away. Dom Dwyer needs to do his number one job - score goals. I love him for the amount of work he puts in, but the guy keeps missing sitters. To be fair, obviously everyone involved in the attack is coming up short.
It is getting annoying saying the same thing about every match for the last two seasons, but like I said they are clearly improved and the chances have been there. Hell, they're undefeated and they've won points from really tough teams! I'm not worried. Yet.
BW: The Rapids have miraculously played pretty well over the last year or so against Sporting. What can the Burgundy Boys expect from the Blue Hell this weekend.
CB: This team has the same core and will definitely play a lot like what you've grown accustomed to over the years from a Peter Vermes squad. The stingy defense and hard fouls are there again. The outside backs love to get forward as always. Benny will still be yelling at the ref in the midfield. You know, all the same old stuff.
But they are much quicker than last season with the likes of Gerso, Blessing & Medranda flying down the wings. Sanchez locking down the midfield in the back has allowed Benny to be further up the pitch and more involved in the attack. Plus the defense is obviously locking it down.
I'm hoping to really see SKC come out flying on Sunday. They'll be in the comfort of CMP and they know the defense is solid. Fans are going to be hungry for some goals! Vermes often speaks about putting on a show at home, so we shall see.