After a long and eventful offseason, the Colorado Rapids are back in action and looking to improve on a frustrating 2017 campaign. They opened 2018 with the first leg of a Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League match. The Rapids squared off against Toronto FC in the round of 16 at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, Colo. On a historically brisk evening, the defending treble winners defeated the Rapids 2-0. Toronto will head into the second leg at their home field with two away goals secured. Colorado will have to win 3-0 or 3-1 if they want to win, as away goals carry more weight in two-leg matches.
Even though this game came weeks before the MLS regular season begins, there were many important pieces to consider regarding the Colorado Rapids and their upcoming season. Here are the good, the bad, and the ugly takeaways from the Rapids’ first match of 2018.
The Rapids dominated Toronto FC in the first half. After 45 minutes, the Rapids had more shots (7-6), more corners (2-0), more crosses on target (10-5), and more tackles won (6-2). Postgame, Rapids coach Anthony Hudson touched on the positives of his team in the first half.
“I thought defensively, we were organized in the first half, and even with the ball with a stronger team, we created the best chance of the game in the first half,” Hudson said. “There was loads of positives in the first half.”
The best chance of the match came in the 27th minute when right wingback Marlon Hairston whipped a pass into the middle of the pitch to newcomer Jack McBean. McBean immediately flicked the ball in behind the defense to forward Dominique Badji, who was played onside and in the clear. Badji had a one-on-one opportunity against Toronto goalkeeper Alex Bono. Unfortunately, Badji struck a low, driving shot directly at Bono, who made the save.
Colorado had an incredible first half and outplayed a Toronto team that has been tabbed by some as possibly the best MLS team ever. Following the loss, Hudson was pleased with his team’s performance against such a high-caliber opponent and what it means moving forward.
“I come away from this feeling very positive about where we’re at today,” Hudson stated. “The first three and a half weeks of building a new team has been spent predominantly on the foundation of the team and getting the team organized. We’re just scratching the surface of where we’re at. We had better chances than them and they’re a top team. They’ve got a team that’s been together for a long time [and] they’ve won everything.”
To best a team in the first half that achieved the domestic treble, winning the Canadian Championship, Supporters Shield and MLS Cup, reveals promise for the regular season. To do it with a starting 11 that saw more than half the roster never play a game for the Rapids is even more impressive.
“We have many new faces, six in the starting 11,” Hudson said. “Coming out of the game, I’m disappointed we haven’t won the game, but I’m incredibly encouraged about the performance.”
Edgar Castillo, Tommy Smith, Deklan Wynne, Jack Price, Enzo Martinez, and Jack McBean all made their first appearances for the club on Tuesday. The more games they play, the more their chemistry and camaraderie will develop. The more their on-field chemistry develops, the more games they will win moving forward.
It was a tale of two halves in Commerce City. The Rapids dominated the first half, but Toronto FC dominated the second half. After the 90 minutes expired, Toronto led in many categories including shots (15-10), shots on target (7-3), total passes (650-402), passing accuracy (88-81 percent), duels won (51-32) and clearances (25-9). The most notable statistic of the game was possession. Toronto controlled the tempo of the game, possessing the ball 62 percent of the time to Colorado’s 38.
Furthermore, altitude usually plays to Colorado’s advantage in any professional sport. On Tuesday, it did the opposite. Toronto FC trained in Mexico City in the weeks leading up to their first-leg match. Mexico City is at 7,400 feet in elevation, whereas Commerce City is only at 5,200. Coach Hudson noted the training tactics employed by Toronto.
“You’re playing against the champions who have prepared in altitude for the last two weeks,” Hudson said. “It was [the Rapids players’] first time playing in altitude. All of these things added up, and what is was is a real good test to see where we’re at.”
Other than some of the player’s beards, the ugliest part of the game was the weather. At kickoff, the temperature was listed at 3 degrees fahrenheit with a “feels like” temperature of -16 degrees. It was the coldest game ever played between two MLS teams. Since it was a Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League game, it technically isn’t the coldest MLS game ever played. The record-breaking MLS game was last year in TCF Bank Stadium, when Atlanta United trounced Minnesota FC 6-1. That game was listed as 19 degrees, a balmy evening compared to Tuesday at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park.
The Rapids have plenty to look forward to as they transition to the MLS regular season in the next few weeks. With some familiar faces and many new ones, the Rapids look to get back into playoff contention with a revamped coaching staff and roster. The Colorado Rapids’ first game of the regular season is March 10 against the New England Revolution. Their home opener is on March 24 against Sporting Kansas City.