By Rapids Rabbi
The best movies I have ever seen about baseball are the holy triumvirate of Field of Dreams, Bull Durham, and Moneyball. Those are in no particular order, as I would be loathe to presume that any of those movies is truly ‘better’ than the other.
What they all share in common is an optimistic spirit. Optimism is endemic to baseball. Even though baseball ends with only one champion each season, somehow, each team renews the year with hopes renewed. Maybe it’s because the sport is quintessentially American, and America is supposed to be a nation of can-do, pull-yourself-up strivers. Baseball’s epic stories are about the group of castoffs and nobodies that shocked
the world, like the 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers or the 2004 Boston Red Sox.
Soccer is different. The league that sets the emotional tone for all others is the Premier League, a league in which teams regularly begin the season making public proclamations in which they either hope for ‘a Champions league spot’ ‘a respectable mid-table finish’ or ‘just to stay up’. Ask AFC Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe if he expects to win the league next year. He’ll look at you like you're daft.
Soccer movies… there really aren’t any good ones. The best soccer movies I’ve seen were ESPN 30 for 30 documentaries, like ‘Hillsborough’ or ‘The Myth of Garrincha’ or ‘The Opposition’, each of which is intense and fascinating but also horribly depressing. ‘Hillsborough’ is about a tragic disaster; Garrincha died of alcoholism, and ‘The Opposition’ focused on the atrocities of the Chilean dictatorship. Sure, there are lighter, happier football movies like ‘Bend it Like Beckham’ and ‘Ladybugs’, but they aren’t actually good. These dark movies, with tales of woe and suffering, are quintessentially about the very ethos of soccer. They are downers. C-3PO might as well have been a soccer fan when he mused ‘We seem to be made to suffer. It’s our lot in life.’
Soccer is for pessimists. The rarity of goals, as well as the difficulty of conjuring one once your team has conceded, means that watching your team surrender a goal is akin to being stabbed right in the heart. I have actually, physically felt my heart break in certain instances. Portugal and Belgium’s goals against the US in 2014; Omar Gonzalez’ own-goal against Trinidad and Tobago in 2017; Seattle’s goal against Colorado in the 2016 playoffs; Joe Nasco’s red card in the first minute against the Galaxy in 2015*. I felt pain in my chest for each of those moments.
This season gives no specific chest palpitations, because it is slowly being drained of its dramatic underpinnings. Once again, the Rapids are bad, and so we fans spend each game braced for impact. As Roger Bennett might say, our last words upon the completion of the singing of the National Anthem might as well be ‘Not in the face!’ If soccer is the pessimists sport, then Rapids fans are the sports truest adherents, for we have suffered more than any MLS fans whose team was not contracted by the league.
That means this season is just an exercise in self-actualization. We began the season with a measure of dread. We attempted to quiet it with each transfer acquisition and with our early signs of progress. But as the failures grew, the dread grew. We revisited our pessimism. It was familiar. We embraced it once more like an old friend. We welcomed it. It will be our companion for the duration, like it or not.
As of now, the season is exactly half-over. The Rapids are 10th place out of 11 Western Conference teams. In 17 matches, they have won 4** games this year, lost 10, and drawn 3. It’s not impossible to make the playoffs right now: we’d just need to average 2.0 points per game for the next 17 matches, or roughly what FC Dallas and Atlanta United have done to this point.
It’s possible. And we can still do our best to remain positive. I will stubbornly support this team regardless of results. But the other reason to go to DSGP is to support your fellow fans, who are also experts in handling this situation after years of experiencing it. Misery loves company, and Rapids fans are quite adept at being miserable. We’ve practiced it for so very long.
Just a few thoughts from our last match (click for the recap). Right after Tim Howard had his best game of the season against Vancouver Whitecaps and I praised his performance on the ‘Holding the High Line’ podcast, he goes out and basically singlehandedly loses this one for Colorado.
This problem of individual errors is not new. It is becoming this team’s defining characteristic. They play good soccer, they can attack a little, they have some talent, and then somebody just makes the worst pass ever and it’s all blown to hell. Tim Howard is just one example; Axel Sjoberg had an early pass that was almost immediate disaster; and at the end of the match Enzo Martinez hit a 70 yard diagonal to section 134, prompting Tommy Smith to say something that even a non-lip reader could interpret as a string of expletives. I really do think this Rapids team could have been a back-end-of-the-playoffs contender, had they not preceded to do many stupid and careless things in each game this year. That is apparently what separates a ‘so-so’ soccer team, from a ‘bad’ soccer team, which is what we resemble right now…
Kortne Ford is back! And he looked really good. I thought that was wonderful. Anthony Hudson was unable to select Danny Wilson due to yellow card accumulation.*** Instead,Axel Sjoberg got a start in the middle as the ‘stay behind at all costs’ defender. It’s the right idea, but Axel will need to be a bit more solid if he wants to keep a starting spot. These backline moves pushed Deklan Wynne out to right back…
Marlon Hairston was also moved the bench despite his nifty new haircut. He hasn’t looked decisive or aggressive in his 3 matches coming back from injury; he had more than 30 passes in each of his first 3 matches of the year, and fewer than 30 in all three of his recent matches. On the season in 6 matches, not only does have zero goals or assists - he has zero Key Chances. On the other wing, teammate Edgar has 23 Key Passes in 16 matches. It’s… worrisome…
A big problem for Colorado this years is fouls. Here’s our stats. We lead the league in yellow cards and fouls. By a lot.
This team has a lot to work on.
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* For Nasco, the pain I felt was clearly unique, and personal. I identify with underdog players, and especially backup goalkeepers. When Joe committed that foul and was sent off in only his second ever MLS start, I knew his soccer career was over. One mistake, and that was it for him. Think about that in the context of your own life, and I imagine you can understand why I was devastated. And I haven’t even met Joe Nasco.
** There’s so few wins, we can name them from memory! We beat Philly 3-0 at home! We beat Toronto FC’s reserves. Then we beat the still-a-terrible-expansion-team Minnesota United and then Vancouver Whitecaps without any of our players being credited with a goal at all.
*** An earlier version of this story thought it was a coaches decision.