Rapids in the Playoffs I

Benjamin Kowalsky
Nov 9th 2010

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Hey Bulldogs. Long time, no talk, a lot to talk about.

Within a few short weeks, the Rapids have gone from merely being in the MLS Cup Playoffs, to nearly being out of the MLS Cup Playoffs, to being the hosts of the Eastern Conference Championship. If youve ever spoken to me at any length about the Playoff structure (Imposing a Conference-style structure on a sport that hasnt a need for it, for example) then you know how I feel about this. Of course, I cant deny that I get a little bit of warm fuzziness inside me when I think that Denver will be the host city of the Eastern Conference Final, no matter how absurd that fact may seem.

Yes, the Rapids drew the Crew on a 2-2 straight aggregate (though if we were using the standard aggregate used everywhere else in the soccer world we would have won on away goals, but I digress yet again), and then brought them to a dramatic penalty shoot-out at Crew Stadium. Its hard to judge teams on their penalty kicks. They are kind of a crap shoot. But the Soccer Gods decided to smile on the Rapids that day, once again the Columbus Crew were knocked out of the MLS Cup Playoffs in the first round by the team that last confirmed its playoff spot.

Though I would argue, of course, that the 2010 Rapids are a better team than the 2009 Real squad who also accomplished a similar feat, but well touch on that in a section I will entitle: Schadenfreude. First, I just want to talk about two things: one, the Rapids aggregate draw, and penalty kick victory. Second, Id like to talk about the Bulldog Supporters Group reaction to the two games.

I cant talk about the finale in Columbus without mentioning the leg that came before it: the Columbus versus Colorado match that occurred at DSG Park. Lets first mention the following: the Columbus Crew is one of the best clubs in the history of MLS. While I have argued previously that RSL is objectively the best club that MLS ever produced, the Crew make a very good case for themselves. They owe their success not only to a seemingly eternally youthful Guilliermo Barros Schellotto, but also to a team cohesiveness that is incredibly difficult to break down. This is a squad that has been kept very much the same over the years for a reason. Compare this to the Colorado Rapids, who have been through an almost complete lineup change in the 4 years since they last reared their heads in the race for the MLS Cup.

While we may delight in people giving the Colorado Rapids their pick for the ones to take the Cup this year, never let it be in any doubt that Colorado is an outside pick. Not based on any kind of storied history, or because of any big roster moves, or because we stocked ourselves to the gills with DPs. No. People pick the Rapids because they feel that the Rapids believe they are in this to the end. In short, where the Columbus Crew has been for the past four years, the Rapids are there now.

And they proved it with a 1-0 over the Crew that could easily have been 3-0 or 4-0 depending on who you ask. The Crew offense was completely impotent. Schellotto looked exhausted. Lenhart had no spark. Rogers had no touch You can go on and on. Theres a lot of reasons for the Crew fans to be disappointed in the offense. But if they were disappointed with their offense, they should have been horrified by their defense. The back four of Columbus were completely cut to shreds, the midfield couldnt keep the ball going their way. For at least 70 percent of the game, the Rapids were running riot over the Crew.

The Rapids were in inspired form. The crowd was smaller than should be expected for a game of such importance (I think the crowds were bigger for Galaxy, New York, RSL, and Seattle in the regular season), but you wouldnt know it from the level of noise in the place. It was truly a joy to be a part of. I have heard that we impressed the higher-ups. After the issues from the last game, resulting in the banning of several Terrace denizens and the prohibition of any projectiles, it was hard to think that the Terraces would be able to continue to be the force that we have been over the course of the season.

I was, of course, proven wrong. The Terraces, lead by the Bulldogs Supporters Group and the Pid Army, bounced back in tremendous fashion. 12,000 people never sounded so loud.

The next leg was a different story. Though opposite: The Crew had a fantastic showing. Everything that was off in the first leg was fixed, and began paying dividends right away. The Crew created chance after chance, and Colorado struggled to find any kind of rhythm like the last performance. Colorado in general and Omar in particular appeared lost. It was as if the brilliant form of games past had abandoned them, and they searched desperately to find it, but too late.

Photo: Getty Images

The first goal came off a bit of a volley in the box, and Eddie Gaven put the ball in the net at point blank range. The next goal came from Robbie Rogers, who put the ball in the net after winning a foot race against Drew Moor.

And if I had to pick the crushing moment out of the match, that would have been it: the Rogers goal. That was moment when I felt all may have been lost, both for the team on the field and for the fans back home. Somewhat because of the way it happened (Jeff Larentowicz had just joined the battle by firing a rattling shot at the goal which missed just by inches and cracked the post), and somewhat because I just have an intense reaction of disgust towards Robbie Rogers removing his shirt.

So pale God. The Nightmares.

And then, when all seemed lost and the Rapids looked to get dumped out of the Playoffs it happened. Conor Casey happened.

Gary Smith threw everyone forward in a 3-4-3 formation, leaving Drew, Beast, and Wynne to mind the back. Kandji, Cummings, and Casey all up top. On a superb ball played in from Omar Cummings, Conor Casey managed to squeeze between the two Center Backs and stick out his leg. He caught the ball by only the slightest of margins, and yet it was all the margin needed. It put the Rapids level on aggregate and set up the penalty shootout.

We know what happened then. It came down to who could hold their nerve. If there is anything that penalty shootouts show is who keeps their cool. And Colorado kept their cool, where Columbus did not. On two occasions this was made obvious: when Brian Carroll missed his shot, and when Greunbaum had a howler of a missed save. He got his hands on a very weak Kandji penalty, but let it slip from his grasp and into the goal. Then, of course, Carroll puts the ball in the sky. It was simply lost cool and succumbing to pressure.

Both photos: Getty Images

And so, the Rapids are on their way to the Eastern Conference Final, one more game between them and the MLS Cup Final.

The Bulldogs were jubilant, and eventually the Pid Army and Class VI people marched down the 16th Street Mall toward the British Bulldog where more beers were drunk and songs were sung. It was a great way to finish off our night.

Both photos: Bulldog Supporters Group

Im going to now split this up into two blog posts, if thats alright with you. The section on Schadenfreude is far too massive and this post is about as massive as your average Columbus Crew fan already.

Mountain Roads Take me home