Wednesday night, the Vancouver Whitecaps will conclude their extended road trip with a make-up match against the Colorado Rapids at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park.
While Vancouver is coming off the heels of two road losses, for the Rapids, their entire season has been a nightmare. This begs the question: What’s gone wrong with the Rapids?
Admittedly, the Rapids have never been a high-spending team, often employing only one or two of their designated player spots, but they did build an identity as a side that made shrewd value acquisitions, and often managed to get more out of their squad than many pundits expected. Colorado finished with an identical point total to the Whitecaps in 2022, finished 1st (yes, 1st) in the West in 2021, and were 5th in the West in 2020. So this is not a team that has been a perennial cellar-dweller, at least in recent seasons.
The problem is, when you live so close to the margins, eventually, your luck is going to run out. The Whitecaps have learned this the hard way as well. Being a playoff team if everything goes your way is not a legitimate plan for success. While the rest of the league has taken big steps forward the last few years, the Rapids have been at a relative standstill.
It also doesn’t help to have some luck go against you. Looking back at the start of this season, key midfielder Jack Price tore his achilles in March, while Diego Rubio, often Colorado’s sole source of clinical finishing, missed 15 of the first 23 regular season games, and he’s only found his form again very recently.
That is Diego Rubio's first goal from the run of play for the first team since his winner @ SKC on April 8. Bassett with a third goal contribution in as many games. pic.twitter.com/Ad7KTR2DlR
— Burgundy Wave (@Burgundywave) September 24, 2023
Equally, the Rapids have failed to replace the players who left the club after their 2021 successes. Sam Vines, Aaron Trusty, Kellyn Acosta, Dominique Badji, and Mark Anthony Kaye all left the squad over the next two seasons, and to date, the Rapids have very little to show for it in return. Connor Ronan has had mixed performances, while adding Danish defender Andreas Maxsø as a designated player has been a real flop.
The Rapids did add former NYRB and Atlanta United midfielder Andrew Gutman, as well as promising youngster Sidnei Tavares from Portugal in the most recent transfer window, although those moves are too little too late, at least as far as this season is concerned.
An added concern is that the current roster does not have a lot of growth potential. Former manager Robin Fraser leaned heavily on veterans, and as a result, only three players who have eclipsed 1,000 minutes played are under the age of 26, and only one (Cole Bassett) is under the age of 23.
With these struggles, the fracturing around the club has really started to show through. It’s clear that for an ownership group as big as Kroenke Sports & Entertainment, the Rapids are very low in the pecking order, and this has created some visceral frustration amongst supporters. This culminated in an organized walkout by the Rapids’ most prominent supporters group in a match against the New England Revolution.
Section 117 has been completely vacated.
C38 left nothing but some banners and some wire. pic.twitter.com/zvHbCNvmuk
— Burgundy Wave (@Burgundywave) September 17, 2023
Needless to say, the Rapids are going to need a pretty dramatic shift in their approach, both on and off the pitch, if they want to regain the faith of their loyal supporters going forward.
Now, having said all of this about Colorado in the big picture, we should look at this matchup specifically. The Rapids are 1-5-0 in their last 6 matches, and have allowed 15 goals over that stretch. Equally, the Rapids have been brutal at home, with just 2 wins and 13 total points from their fixtures at DSG. The Rapids have scored 5 goals in their last 3 matches though, so they seem to have found a bit of goalscoring form as of late. Since the coaching change, Colorado has shifted to a 4-2-3-1, though there is still a lot of rotation throughout the lineup from match to match, as they try to find the right combinations.
Turning to Vancouver, Vanni Sartini commented on Tuesday that his team was looking to treat this bonus match like a cup final. Sartini stated the importance of capitalizing on the game in hand they’ve held on the rest of the West since this match was postponed, and just how big of an achievement it would be if this team could finish top-four in the West. If Vancouver does want to secure one of those top spots, winning in Colorado is not optional.
Given these comments, I would expect the starting XI for Vancouver to be full-strength. Neither Andres Cubas nor Sam Adekugbe looked at 100% in the match against RSL, but I suspect that both will start if they are able on Wednesday night. Ali Ahmed could be primed for a big night after coming off the bench this past weekend, while Javain Brown could establish himself over Mathias Laborda if he gets another start as the third centreback in this lineup.
For Colorado, Andrew Gutman, Diego Rubio, and Ralph Priso all suffered knocks against Portland, so their status is still in question for this match. Losing any of those three would be a big hit for the home side to take. (As of Wednesday morning, Gutman is listed as questionable, the other two are available).
Fixtures don’t come much simpler than this one for Vancouver. They are the better team, and they are facing a club in complete disarray. If Vancouver can take control from the opening stages and avoid big mistakes that invite the Rapids into the match, then this should be a comfortable result for the Whitecaps, so I’ll go 3-1 Vancouver.