The 2018 Colorado Rapids are done. Only the memories, mostly painful, remain.
If you are looking for a wonderful end-of-season superlatives article, my friend Matt Pollard at Last Word on Soccer did a good one. He called it "a peanut gallery rebuttal" to A Burgundy Affair, which is absolutely perfect. There were contributions from all around the Rapids press corps.
I'll do a simple month-by-month recap, either for posterity, or because I'm a lunatic.
After that, stick around to hear the future of the Backpass column.
Rapids Month By Month Recap
The Rapids unveil new head coach Anthony Hudson with much ballyhoo at a DSGP Press conference.
Colorado adds Edgar Castillo, Jack Price, Danny Wilson, and Tommy Smith to the team. Most pundits had concerns that the key additions were not at striker or attacking midfield - positions the Rapids have needed to reinforce for nearly a decade.
Colorado also makes five picks in the MLS draft. Ultimately, only striker Niki Jackson would remain with the team, but he will turn out to be a diamond in the rough. They also sign 18-year-old Sam Vines, a left back, to a homegrown contract, and ship him to Charlotte along with Andrew Dykstra and Caleb Calvert.
Rapids record: 0-1-1
Colorado opens the season with two CCL games to Toronto, with a 2-0 home loss in -7 degree Fahrenheit weather and a 0-0 draw in Canada. The 'Pids are out, and fast. Coach Hudson unveils the 5-3-2 attack, and it shows some attacking promise.
Hudson also refers to the two games as "essentially, like pre-season for us." I think he meant his comments to say 'we're not as sharp as we will be in another three months.' But unfortunately, he didn't say it that way, and the national media have a bit of a field day with it.
Rapids record for the month: 1-1-1; overall 1-2-2
The MLS regular season begins. Colorado loses to New England in the 90th minute, but Niki Jackson scores on his debut.
The team gets Joe Mason, a bench-piece striker with a few goals here and there to his credit, on loan from Wolverhampton.
Colorado coughs up a 2-0 home lead in the second half to SKC to yield a 2-2 result, showing the first signs that there might be defensive problems afoot.
In the third match of the year, the Philadelphia Union forget how to defend in transition and Dominique Badji scores a hat trick on them. Stefan Aigner subs on for 11 minutes, his first minutes of the season. Late in the game he streaks back post, wide open, but Dominique Badji takes the shot and scores himself. Aigner looks visibly frustrated.
Colorado sends dust-gathering centerback Jared Watts to Houston for $100K in TAM. Watts had been the CB of choice for Pablo Mastroeni in 2016 when the club was defensively unstoppable.
Rapids record for the month: 1-2-1; overall 2-4-3
Colorado draws Dallas and beats Toronto's 'B' team, although Jack Price hits a stunner of a goal. Tim Howard gets a red at Rio Tinto as the Rapids get spanked 3-0 in the first leg of the Rocky Mountain Cup. We all thought that was going to be the worst game of the season. Little did we know, friends.
Colorado ends the month with a loss to Orlando City SC, getting torched in the second half.
Right back Marlon Hairston is out with an injury, forcing the Rapids to try Kip Colvey, Dillon Serna, Nana Boateng, and Deklan Wynne at the position. None of them look good there.
Stefan Aigner spends April sitting on the bench, or not making the 18-man gameday roster at all. Late in the month he has a shouting match at training with coach Anthony Hudson and storms off DSGP Field 23.
Rapids record for the month: 0-4-0; overall 2-8-3
Colorado sends Eric Miller to Minnesota United for winger Sam Nicholson.I was kind of sad about it.
The team loses every game of the month; 1-0 to SKC, 2-1 to NYRB, 4-0 to NYCFC, and 3-2 to Portland. They aren't even close in 3 of those 4 matches, as the Red Bull and Portland matches featured garbage time goals from Jack McBean and Yannick Boli. Also, it feels like Coach Hudson prefers new players to old players, even in the midst of the skid.
Nana Boateng looks particularly bad, especially in a midfield performance against Portland.
The press get wind of Aigner-gate and start asking questions. The stock answer from Hudson is that he wasn't yet match fit, but "he knows what he needs to do to get into the team."
After the team's sixth-straight loss to end the month, I asked Coach Hudson if the team needed some kind of serious change. He said no; the club just needed "little tweaks". The 5-3-2, which has some nice attacking flexibility but is also opening the club up to be ruthlessly exploited on the counter-attack, will stay.
Rapids record for the month: 1-3-1; overall 3-11-4
(includes defeat in fourth round of US Open Cup to Nashville SC)
Although they ultimately break the duck, June will be remembered as the month the Rapids set a club record for consecutive losses with 9, including a midweek defeat in US Open Cup.
The month opens with Colorado's defense getting torn limb from limb by Vancouver Whitecaps, as Christian Techera and Jordy Reyna score goals in transition against the Rapids backline that leave them looking silly.
The Rapids add to that defeat with the loss to Nashville SC. The club debut a 4-4-2 diamond for the first time, but ultimately get played off the pitch by a USL team in just their first year of existence. It hurts all the more that Colorado loses to Gary Smith, Kosuke Kimura, and Matt Pickens; the coach and two of the key players from the 2010 MLS Cup-winning Rapids squad.
Three days later a tired and tattered Rapids play a listless defeat at Houston. Entering the month with only 8 points, the teams two losses essentially eliminate them from the playoffs, dropping their already 8% odds down to 4%, and it's only mid June.
They "stop the bleeding" on June 13 with a draw at home against Chicago Fire, who will go on to finish last in the Eastern Conference. They follow that up with an exciting 3-2 win against Minnesota United at home on June 23, proving that although the team totally sucks, at least they aren't boring.
Aigner-gate reaches its inevitable conclusion, as the disgruntled winger/bench-dweller is given his release. The club reports it as a 'termination by mutual consent', but for roster purposes, the move is akin to taking $850,000 of money that is committed to the 2018 salary cap, dumping it in he DSGP parking lot, and lighting it on fire. Think of the nice McMansion in Highlands Ranch you could have bought with that money, kids. Stefan Aigner returns to Germany to sign for KFC Uerdigen in the German 3rd division, where as of this writing, he is third in the league with 6 goals and his team is in 4th place.
Rapids record for the month: 1-3-2; overall 4-14-6
Colorado grinds out a 1-0 victory on the road to start the month at BC Place.
The team had experienced airplane delays departing Canada for a midweek July 4 game at home against Seattle and they lose at home. Another airplane mechanical challenge hurts them as they roll into Montreal a day behind schedule and lose, but most fans assume that a fully-rested Rapids squad wouldn't have fared much better.
They follow that up with a dull 0-0 draw at home against Houston, and an exciting 2-2 draw against RSL. That result at least gives a shred of hope that the team can still find a way to win back the Rocky Mountain Cup later in the year.
The month ends away to DC, as they concede a goal to Wayne Rooney, (eight seconds of total breakdown) , then snatch defeat from the jaws of a draw when Niki Jackson has an own-goal in stoppage time.
The big story of the month though comes on July 23 during the MLS summer transfer window, as the team's leading scorer Dominique Badji is traded to FC Dallas in exchange for USMNT midfielder Kellyn Acosta, who was unhappy with his playing time for Oscar Pareja. The move is a win-win for both sides, although it looks likely that Acosta is using the Rapids as a pit-stop on the way to somewhere else in 2019 or 2020. Can you blame him?
Rapids record for the month: 2-2-1; overall 6-16-7
Colorado beat the LA Galaxy and San Jose at home to start the month. It was a great display of the potential of both Kellyn Acosta and the 4-4-2 diamond. But also, it was against a Galaxy team with a lackluster defense and the San Jose Earthquakes, the worst team in the league. (The SJ game was my last as a Coloradan. *sniff*)
Colorado's road match against the Galaxy is a pretty great one. Niki Jackson scored a shocking equalizer to give the team a 2-2 draw. Tim Howard has a nice first-half save off the line, Castillo scores a banger, and David Bingham biffs a relatively easy save on Niki's goal.
The club stays in LA for four more days and lost to high-octane LAFC.
They close out the month with what might be considered the worst defeat in club history. Facing RSL in the scratch game of the Rocky Mountain Cup, they surrender the early lead to a Damir Kreilach goal. Shortly thereafter, Niki Jackson head butts an RSL player and draw a straight red card. Colorado concedes again. Nana Boateng kicks another RSL player - another straight red. Four goals later, Colorado limps off the pitch to a smattering of boos. It would have been louder, but most of the fans had already left.
Rapids record for the month: 0-4-0; overall 6-20-7
Colorado hits the skids hard, losing to Portland, Atlanta, Columbus, and Seattle by a combined score of 11 to 1. A back injury to Sam Nicholson keeps him sidelined. The only bright spot here was that Rapids homegrown Cole Bassett gets his first minutes for the club in the Portland and Atlanta games.
But that's just an interesting footnote. In reality, Colorado play 360 minutes of terrible, soul-sucking football, pounding the life out of their few morose fans.
Rapids record for the month: 2-1-1; overall 8-21-8 (8-19-7 in MLS play).
Colorado finished the 2018 MLS season with 31 points; 21st out of 23 teams in the league.
Colorado begins by welcoming LAFC to Colorado for the first time, and Carlos Vela and Adama Diomande absolutely molly-wallop the team, 3-0.
The Rapids get a win against Minnesota on the road 2-0, and the game is marred by some shoving at the end due to Tommy Smith flexing in front of the Loons bench. Cole Bassett gets his first start.
Colorado goes to Avaya Stadium and grinds out a decent 0-0 draw - both teams get looks but neither can finish. Colorado starts Cole Bassett, Kortne Ford, and Dillon Serna, and subs on Sam Vines at the half - it is the first game in club history that features four homegrowns on the field at the same time. (Snarky comment - considering how bad the Rapids international signings are this year, maybe we should focus on domestics from now on.)
The end-of-season match back home on decision day has a bit of revenge in it, as they play FC Dallas, who stole their coach (Pareja) took their striker (Badji) and twice knocked them out of the Open Cup (2017 and 2016). Colorado win, dropping FC Dallas from second in the Western Conference to fourth, forcing them into a knockout match they will lose to Portland. Cole Bassett scores his first career goal.
There was some mild controversy too, as a C38 supporter was cited for throwing smoke in the parking lot, and the fans left section 117 for the terrace in protest. I'm sick of the Commerce City Fire Department too, you guys. No Fun Police is what those guys are. Uncle Stan should buy those guys a lap dance and make them look the other way every Saturday, in my humble opinion.
That is the sad story of the 2018 Colorado Rapids. They stumbled a little off the bat, suffered through an early season controversy, had trouble scoring, were knocked out of Open Cup by a USL team, and endured 9 and 7 game losing streaks. Many of their signings were over-priced for what they produced. And as we end the year, both of the club's DPs, Tim Howard and Shkelzen Gashi, will still be on the books for 2019. Meanwhile we still don't know what will become of their best player, Edgar Castillo, who is on loan from Monterrey. There's money to improve this club, but there aren't dollars or roster spots available for a full teardown and rebuild. 2019 will require some really lucky signings as well as the improvement of a number of 2018 disappointments like Tommy Smith, Danny Wilson, Johan Blomberg, and Nana Boateng.
Signing off from Backpass, maybe for good
A short note follows this article regarding the unfortunate demise of Around MLS. It was a good idea, but it didn't have the legs.
I don't know what lies in store for me as a Rapids writer. They're still my favorite MLS team, and I'd love to cover them, but it's harder from two time zones away, and it's less interesting when you don't have the access and the practices and the press box and the witty banter with Marcelo Balboa at the half.
I also no longer have an outlet to write for - I'm a free agent. I had some great professional writing success this year, getting pieces published at big sites like The Athletic and the Washington Post. I haven't let it get to my head - I'm not quitting my day job as a part-time rabbi. But I also really don't have a home base to write for, and my weird little portfolio of stats, tactics, and goofy pop-culture inflected snark doesn't really fit neatly into anyone's box. As of right now, I plan to be a contributor at PittsburghSoccerNow, and see if anything else catches my fancy. I might migrate Backpass over there and switch it to USL coverage, or bring it back with another outlet in the Spring and stick with the Rapids.
Or this might be the final Backpass in history of any sort. It was a good run. It'd be sad, but all things, including another underwhelming Colorado Rapids soccer season, must end.