COMMERCE CITY, Colo. — Rapids head coach Gary Smith knows his team blew a great opportunity to virtually secure a playoff berth last weekend when they were dropped 1-0 at home by a struggling D.C. United.
Three points last Saturday would have continued the momentum the Rapids had built up during what has been a productive two months for the team.
Colorado now have three very tough games to close out their regular season: away to Western Conference leaders LA Galaxy on Oct. 16, the dreaded final fixture of the season at home to Real Salt Lake on Oct. 23 and, most imminently, Saturday's road trip to Texas against the almost unbeatable FC Dallas.
Rapids fans may be holding their breath after the disappointments of recent seasons when Real Salt Lake have ruined Colorado's playoff chances in the final game of each of the last three campaigns.
Surely the team doesn’t have to rely on that fated final game to be sure of making the postseason?
Smith is having none of it.
“Saturday’s performance was ill-timed,” the coach told MLSsoccer.com this week. “It was a fabulous opportunity to take advantage of a home game. But morale is good and the postseason is still something we should be achieving and there is no reason to believe otherwise. We will be trying to get back on track in a tough environment in Dallas.”
It sure will be tough. FC Dallas have put up no end of records this season, but probably the most telling statistic is that they have only lost twice all season and once at home.
But the Rapids have shown this season they are made of sterner stuff than in recent years, mainly because their squad is deeper. They visited RSL last month and were seconds away from beating the reigning champions and the team with the longest-ever MLS unbeaten stretch at home. Even in recent road trip defeats to Columbus and New York, the Rapids controlled large portions of each game.
Also, there is something to be said for playing challenging games when the playoffs are just around the corner. Smith and his players know there will be no straightforward games when it comes to the postseason so they may as well prepare themselves now for the challenges ahead by playing tough matches down the stretch.
Also, it may well be that the Rapids could play one of their next three opponents in the playoffs.
A win Saturday, coupled with anything less than a win for Kansas City, and the Rapids are in the playoffs. But the players won’t be relying on other teams — they have a job to do. Should they bounce back from last weekend’s disappointment, they will be feeling a lot better about the remainder of the season.
A full squad will be traveling to Dallas on Friday because there is also a reserve game on Sunday morning against their FC Dallas counterparts. Smith said earlier this week that everybody is fit to travel except for central defender Julien Baudet. That means Omar Cummings and Marvell Wynne will likely start. Both were on the bench as injury precautions for the DC game.