It was a night of firsts for the Colorado Rapids on Saturday. Interim head coach Steve Cooke got his first MLS win, Stefan Aigner got his first MLS assist and the Rapids got their first road victory of the season.
Dominique Badji’s 92nd-minute goal was the only offense of the night in the Rapids 1-0 win over the Houston Dynamo. It’s the second time the Rapids have beat the Dynamo on the season. Their 3-1 home victory on July 1 was actually the last time the Rapids won a game this year.
The match also saw Aigner get his first MLS assist in dramatic fashion. Standing about 15 yards out side the penalty area in the 92nd minute, Aigner saw a streaking Badji at the far post. He casually struck a right-footed cross that curled over the defense and landed at Badji’s feet perfectly. Badji then popped it into the top of the net for the only goal of the game.
The win must be a weight off of Cooke’s shoulders. Before Saturday’s game, Cooke’s audition for the Rapids’ head coaching position had not gone well. He was 0-0-4 in his first four matches and was outscored 10-2 by his opponents, which included games against D.C. United and the L.A. Galaxy, both of which have had abysmal 2017 seasons. In Saturday’s game, he had the Rapids looking a lot like the 2016 side, a team that routinely won 1-0 decisions by allowing the opponents to possess the ball, playing dense defense and capitalizing on counter-attack opportunities.
In all likelihood, the Rapids front office will allow Cooke to coach the remaining seven games on the schedule. If Cooke can produce more results like he did on Saturday, he’ll force Padraig Smith and the front office to consider him as a strong contender for the full-time replacement. If he reverts back to his losing ways, the offseason search for a head coach will be the priority immediately following the season.
Cooke does have some things going for him that may make him an attractive candidate for the front office. Since Pablo Mastroeni was let go, the Rapids front office has said in the media multiple times that the important thing to them when looking for a new head coach is that the coach is on the same page as the front office. This means that when management is specifically bringing in attacking players to enable the team to control the ball more, attack more and play more attractive soccer, they want a coach who is willing to adapt his approach and change the style of play of the team to suit the personnel that the front office has acquired.
But, at the end of the day, results matter. We know this from the termination of Mastroeni, who had major player support within the locker room. The players would run through a brick wall for him, yet the disappointing product on the field was enough to outweigh any opinions of the players. So, Cooke has the confidence of the front office in his approach, but he’ll need to start earning points for the team if he wants to stay past 2017.
Cooke has his work cut out for him. Five of the Rapids’ seven remaining games are against teams above .500. Their next match is arguably the toughest they’ll have the rest of the year as they take on David Villa, Andrea Pirlo and NYCFC Sept. 16 at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. After that, they have a game against the Vancouver Whitecaps, who are currently in third place in the Western Conference, two against FC Dallas, one against the defending champion Seattle Sounders, one against the Montreal Impact and one against bitter rivals Real Salt Lake.
One positive for Cooke is that he has his full complement of players to choose from. As of right now no player is seriously injured, and Aigner is very quickly coming into his own in MLS. Cooke has an uphill battle if he wants to be the head coach of the Rapids, but he’s still got an outside shot.