So, you’ve decided to give soccer a try. Maybe you just enjoy the quaint yet kitschy atmosphere of an English pub and had an odd curiosity at what everyone was watching on the TVs there. Maybe you’re a hardcore supporter of the U.S. Men’s National Team who’s become addicted and now can’t get enough. Or maybe you’re just tired of watching the Rockies and Broncos lose game after game.
No matter what your reasoning is, we’ve got good news for you: Colorado has its own soccer team. Better yet, this year’s squad is pretty good; the Rapids finished the regular season atop the Western Conference, which means they could host games throughout the playoffs that run until mid-December.
The team’s road to the Major League Soccer (MLS) Cup begins on Thanksgiving Day. Interested in hopping on the bandwagon? Here, we gathered the essential info you need to know about the Rapids’ ascent this season.
Colorado’s MLS franchise has always taken on an ethos of plucky underdog, lacking the big money, names, and resources that teams in places like Los Angeles and New York have. This year’s Rapids squad has taken that identity almost to an extreme, with designated player (a fancy MLS term for a typically big-name, high-salary star) Younes Namli out for most of the season due to injury. Instead, Colorado has achieved top seeding in the Western Conference with young and hungry homegrown players, including a retread of a former draft pick that was traded away in forward Dominique Badji. The team’s leading scorer and MVP? That would be Michael Barrios, a man whose original club, FC Dallas, had decided to move on from him.
The Rapids are set to kick off the MLS Cup Playoffs with a game on Thanksgiving Day, or as the team is calling it, “the biggest Friendsgiving gathering in Colorado.” Burning off some of those excess holiday calories by jumping in the stands and cheering on the local boys certainly sounds better than the mundane holiday tradition of watching mediocre “football” teams from Detroit and Dallas. Purchasing a ticket also helps support a good cause: For every fan inside Dick’s Sporting Goods Park prior to kickoff of the Western Conference Semifinal match on November 25, the Colorado Rapids and Kroenke Sports Charities will donate four meals to the Food Bank of the Rockies.
Fraser Knows Best
Colorado Rapids head coach Robin Fraser knows a thing or two about successful professional soccer teams in Colorado. In his 11 seasons as a player in the Centennial State, eight with the Colorado Foxes of the American Professional Soccer League (1990-’97) and three with the Rapids (2001-’03), he only missed the playoffs three times. He’s continued that success this season, leading the Rapids to 61 points over 34 games and a first-place finish in the Western Conference—both franchise-best marks, and just a couple of examples why he’s a nominee for MLS Coach of the Year.
The head coach isn’t the only one with local ties. Leading the way is homegrown midfielder Cole Bassett. The Littleton native has appeared in all but two of Colorado’s games this season, chipping in five goals and four assists. Fellow midfielder Collen Warner, a former standout at Denver’s East High School, also scored his first goal for the Rapids in the team’s regular season finale, a 5-2 win over Los Angeles FC. Forward Andre Shinyashiki tied a University of Denver record with 83 appearances for the school, before being drafted by the Rapids in 2019. And Colorado Springs native Sam Vines played eight games for the Rapids this season, contributing to five wins before being sold to Belgian first-division club Antwerp during the summer.
Even the humble Rapids have ties to the highest levels of international soccer. As mentioned, Rapids Academy product Sam Vines completed a blockbuster move to Europe this past summer and had cemented his place in the U.S. National Team before suffering a collarbone injury abroad. Rapids midfielder Kellyn Acosta is also a regular for the U.S. national team, which sits in second place right now in the CONCACAF World Cup qualification table. Currently in first? That would be Canada, the team that Rapids midfielder Mark-Anthony Kaye plays for. Cole Bassett has also had offers to play abroad, having had previous training stints with Freiburg in Germany and English giants Arsenal. Bassett also reportedly turned down a move to UEFA Champions League regulars Benfica this summer to pursue an MLS Cup with the hometown club.
Like their NBA and NHL counterparts in Denver, the Rapids fell victim to the ongoing contract dispute between Kroenke Sports (the current owner of the team) and Comcast about airing Altitude Sports, the channel that broadcasts the team’s games. Those who subscribe to the state’s biggest cable provider have resorted to some less-than-legal streaming alternatives to watch the team. Even when the Rapids appear on national television, the games are often inaccessible due to blackout restrictions. Long gone are the days when the Rapids played for free on Channel 20. The good news? You can still purchase your ticket and watch them in the stadium, like dad used to do in the 1990s.
The Rapids debuted their “Class 5” kit at the beginning of the season, which features several nods to the Centennial State. The green color of the jersey is a modernized take, meant to be reminiscent of the team’s early days in MLS, when green was the squad’s primary color. Embossed lines in the shirt represent six of Colorado’s 14ers: Grays Peak, Torreys Peak, Pikes Peak, Mt. Bierstadt, Mt. Evans, and Quandary Peak. Even the “Class 5” moniker is a nod to the most difficult peaks to climb, as well as the most challenging rapids to navigate when whitewater rafting.
Home on the Front Range
It started with the Denver Broncos, but now every professional sports team seems to have embraced Denver’s altitude and the home-field advantage it provides. Sports pundits, trainers, and even coaches have long debated the actual quantifiable effects of playing at 5,280 feet above sea level. In soccer, where lung capacity and the ability to keep tired legs running for 90 minutes is vital, the advantage definitely seems real. In 2021, the Rapids have lost only one game at home (a 3-1 defeat to expansion franchise Austin FC back in April). They’ll hope to keep that run of form during the upcoming slew of home games, where they could play as the top seed in the Western Conference.
Editor’s note 11/23/21: A previous version of this article stated that Cole Bassett recently turned down a transfer to Portuguese club Porto. He reportedly turned down a move to Benfica. We regret the error.