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  • Richard Fleming

The Rapids Are Not The Surprise Side You Think They Are

‘How did the Colorado Rapids finish top of the Western Conference?’

This kind of comment was the general view of a blinkered few, after the 2010 winners leapt over Sporting Kansas City and Seattle Sounders on Decision Day Sunday this past weekend.

The surprise, shock, and downright incredulity at a side not coming from LA, Kansas, or the Pacific Northwest finishing top of the pile could have some wondering whether these upstarts from the Centennial State had emerged from nowhere.

But the truth is, for those who watch MLS every week - and by that, I mean, monitor, track, follow, and invest time in teams outside of the so-called big boys - the Rapids in 2021 ought to have caught few off guard.

Had someone asked me at the start of the year where I expected the Rapids to finish, I would have said ‘I have no idea’.

And that’s the truth. In sport there are so many variables - injuries, international absentees, suspensions, (in North American sport) strength of schedule - that preseason predictions are an act of folly. It is, in modern media parlance, click bait. It creates copy, and generates chatter, but those who make such predictions rarely have the full picture.

Revered mathematician, John von Neumann was quoted as saying: “There’s no sense in being precise when you don’t even know what you’re talking about.”

Predictions are one thing, but the comments stemming from supposed shock at ‘lil ol’ Colorado surprising us all’ indicated a patronizing ignorance.

Since Robin Fraser took over the Rapids at the end of August 2019, their record has been 30-15-14. That is a total of 104 points from 59 games, averaging 1.76 points per game - the same PPG the Sounders achieved over 34 games this season, and which was good enough for second in the West.

As a comparison, over 59 games, New England managed 31-13-15 (1.83 PPG), the Sounders have gone 30-14-15 (1.78). and Sporting KC’s record is 29-19-11 (1.66), the same as Portland Timbers.

A record-breaking season for the Revolution has been met with gushing praise for the work carried out by Bruce Arena, and quite right, too. Compare that to the response to the Rapids’ success, which only feeds into the lazy narrative of ‘the good teams must have had an off day’ rather than drawing the conclusion that perhaps the team from Colorado has been in the mix for a little while now.

This may come across as a ‘woah is us’ type of comment piece. So be it. In a league which we’re constantly told is built on parity, there remain some who are surprised when success is shared around.

Some could be forgiven for underestimating the Rapids. Others likely assumed the team would fall away at some point and the natural order would be restored.

The club’s cause was probably not helped by a lack of national TV coverage this year. But a little research would tell you that this team has been one of the more consistent performers over the last few seasons, certainly since Fraser has taken charge.

Whatever happens the rest of the way, it would be lovely if those big boy blinkers were removed and set to one side going forward. Sport’s unpredictability is a huge part of its alure. Embrace that. The unexpected make the greatest stories.

The Rapids are no longer a secret, nor should they be a surprise. But then, if you’ve been paying attention, you’d know that.

About the author: Richard Fleming has just finished his ninth season covering the Colorado Rapids in Major League Soccer. During 16 years with the BBC, he covered two FIFA World Cups, five Africa Cup of Nations, a FIFA Confederations Cup, and a European Championship. He has also covered UEFA Champions League, English Premier League, and football at all levels of the game during more than 30 years covering the sport.

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