The Summer of our Discontent?
A Fan Reaction to the beginning of what looks like another summer of discontent
Benjamin Kowalsky
May 24th 2011

Hello, Bobbies.

Long time no talk, and a lot has happened since last we spoke. And here we are somewhere between a quarter and a half of the way through the 2011 season. And so far, things are feeling much the same as they did in 2010 around this time. While there is something surely to be said for consistency, there’s also something to be said for “sustained greatness”—the sort of greatness that was mentioned by Rapids Managing Director Jeff Plush in his victory speech in downtown Denver last year.

Sure, the Rapids came out looking great: 3 wins in a row, two home and one away. Granted, the opponents weren’t thought of as being all that great at the time (the Timbers and Chivas USA have gone on to become something of “giant killers”) but the wins were convincing enough to give Rapids fans hope. It even was able to turn a couple of heads from MLS as well. Even some of the well established “Rapids-Haters” (and you know well who you are…) were starting to come around.

Then FC Dallas happened.

I can’t emphasize enough how disheartening that loss was. It was the first utter spanking of the Rapids that I had seen in quite some time. I swear, the red welt that appeared collectively on every Rapids fans’ ass right after that game bore fingerprints. That’s how bad it was. Some people weren’t even watching the game and suddenly gave a start in the middle of their dinner “Honey, did you feel that?” I know I did.

The Rapids were outplayed from minute 1 to minute 90+. It was an awful spectacle to watch as a Rapids fan, though certainly cathartic for FC Dallas—and no doubt vindicating to the bloggers and prognosticators who believed the Rapids really weren’t something special.

After that, the worst thing that could have happened was a loss to your biggest rivals followed by a loss at home. And the Rapids got just that. After getting robbed of a draw at Rio Tinto (in one of the most quizzical missed calls by a linesman since another famous Argentinian not named Fabian Espindola called down the Hand of God), the Rapids came back to lose 1-0 at home to Seattle. And not only was there a loss of points, but a loss of players. The Seattle match not only cost us Brian Mullan for several games, but also even further vindicated those voices that claimed (in spite of relevant statistics) that the Rapids were a “dirty team”. Our record was soiled, and our reputation smudged.

You guys remember that fun episode, right? Where Brian Mullan was accused of everything up to and sometimes including murder? Who could have predicted such a horrifying backlash not only at the player himself, but also at the club as an organization? And even then who could have predicted that a Rapids player would be given the longest suspension for an on field incident during the run of play?

Times were not good. And they haven’t honestly gotten that much better. The Rapids are trudging through the middle of the season battered and bruised, so much so that at some points the Rapids were unable to field a natural striker due to injuries.

The Rapids’ depth has been surely tested, halfway though this season, and some have risen to the occasion where others have not: Andre Akpan being an example of the former and Joseph Nane being an example of the latter. Though I may be a bit rough on Nane, because he was called up at the absolute last minute to play in a position that was crafted for a veteran like Mastroeni. It’s like if you were trying to replace a cast member on “The Jersey Shore” with me halfway through an episode and somehow thinking that I’m just going to be able to pull it off. Sure, I can fist pump like a champ, but man does not live by fist pumping alone. Akpan, on the other hand, has been impressive from minute one.

Through this period, it’s understandable that the Rapids have struggled. No part of the field has been untouched by injury or personnel shifts. But this shouldn’t surprise anyone. Gary Smith last year spent a bit of time shifting strategies and players in different experiments to see what worked best (remember the Rapids 4-5-1?). And how has it been different this year? Not much has changed. Lineups have been patchwork at times, but still somehow effective.

Right now, the Rapids are playing well enough to not lose, but not well enough to win. While this may not have been a problem for FC Dallas fans last season, it’s more than a little disappointing for Rapids fans. I’m writing right after the Rapids drew with Toronto FC at home. Understandably, many of the Bobbies (myself included) are unhappy at this current state of affairs. Drawing Toronto FC and the Chicago Fire at home should be unacceptable for the reigning champions of MLS. And previously the Rapids have beaten the New England Revolution so handsomely that you are left wondering whether or not “Steve Nicol” is cockney for “an easy six points.” This time around, the Revs smacked the Rapids around, and the boys were lucky not to leave with another smudge on their nice new white and burgundy away kits. While the Rapids have gone unbeaten in league play, I think we can all agree that they aren’t back to winning ways—or playing winning soccer for that matter.

I don’t pretend to be a coach, or someone who has any idea how to run a soccer club, but speaking as a fan—something has got to happen with how the Rapids are playing. You can make all the excuses you want about the injuries and suspensions; the fact is that the Rapids aren’t playing winning soccer. They are playing well enough to keep their head above water. The fact that the Rapids haven’t been solidly beaten since that Dallas game speaks to not only a deep bench, but also a deep character and a solid system.

However, this solid system seems to be one that’s designed not to lose—but not yet one that’s designed to win even under the most adverse of circumstances. The Rapids attack, though still as efficient as ever, has yet to truly awaken. The prolific form of Casey and Cummings, while still a possibility this year, shouldn’t be our only hope for high scoring games.

“Sustained Greatness” and “treading water” may be synonymous in Dallas, but not so in Colorado—certainly not after attaining the heights of our first MLS Cup. With Champions’ League play now coming into the mix, the Rapids are not going to find this season getting an easier. The only response is to simply get better.

While the Bobbies and all of the supporters’ groups will always be there to support our Rapids, tough times call for honest assessments. And that’s the most honest assessment I can manage.

No upcoming events.

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