So, you guys are a bit down and out and - oh. Uh... hey. How'd you guys sneak up to second place in the West like that? Are you starting to meet expectations, or does this exceed them?
A superb July is to blame for our recent shot up the standings, as well as a good number of games in hand the Rapids hold over, well, just about everyone else. Even with the games in hand though, the Rapids have been streaky in the good way since the end of May. The team is healthy now and a lot of the young guys have started to exceed the expectations we had for them (Clint Irwin, Dillon Powers, Chris Klute) which has given the team some very good cohesiveness. They don't lean on just one or two players any more, like the Red Bulls do with Henry/Cahill or the Rapids used to do with Casey/Cummings. With cohesiveness has come consistency and with consistency has come confidence. It's completely exceeded expectations for sure, this coming from the guy who was saying that sixth place would be a decent finish during the pre-season.
Compare this season's 3-0-2 July to last year when the Rapids went a mind-boggling 0-6-0 in July. Colorado was actually in a similar situation at the start of last July, sitting just outside the playoffs and in need of some confidence and consistency. Going winless crushed the team last year, and the alternative has gotten them into the shield race this year.
It is, of course, worth noting that the Rapids still do have those games in hand, so their second-place appearance is a bit of a mirage. If they have a mediocre August, it could be right back to mid-table for them quicker than you can say 'Gary Smith'.
Finally, our rivalry really means something. The cup's on the line, MLS standings are on the line - how's the anticipation down there?
About as high as it's ever been, and it's not just because we have a chance to finally nab the cup back for the first time in a long time, either. One of the perks of the sweeping changes that the team saw in 2012 was a renewed sense of rivalry from the top of the team to the bottom. Back in 2010 or so, Gary Smith didn't seem to care about winning the cup as much as he did getting a point every time he met a tough conference opponent -- and, as we know, two ties gave the cup right back to RSL that year -- and you rarely heard a peep about it from the players or front office. Pablo Mastroeni cared, but he seemed the only one other than the fans who gave a hoot.
Now, you've got players talking it up minutes after defeating the Galaxy, Oscar Pareja saying, 'We want our cup back' in the team's podcast, the Rapids themselves making movies and posts about it all... I can't remember this much excitement over the cup reverberating throughout the team when they were still winning it! No complaints from our end in terms of anticipation.
We sort of front-loaded the rivalry this time - and as a result, both our sides are probably a bit different than when we last met. How have you changed, and what should we be looking out for?
The biggest changes to the Rapids have come because the team has finally reached a good level of health, which means a few guys have played themselves in or out of some of the spots. You're likely to see new face German Mera, a big central defender out of Colombia, as a substitute to add size to the defense. Nathan Sturgis has become a starter and will be in place of the suspended Hendry Thomas, while Argentine spark Martin Rivero may return from injury and be up top.
A few of the younger names from last time will be familiar, but a bit more seasoned going into this game than they were last time. Chris Klute has gone from a streaky right back to one of the best left backs in the entire league. Shane O'Neill has quickly blossomed into a superb center back who the Rapids have never lost with on the field. Dillon Powers has continued to blossom into a young Kyle Beckerman prototype, and looks like a lock for a Top 3 vote in the rookie of the year vote.
In all, not much has really changed with the team in terms of personnel. Most of the difference is in chemistry, confidence and growth in the youngsters.