The Rapids beat the New York Red Bulls 5-4 on Saturday at Giants Stadium. Conor Casey scored a hat trick, including the game winner to lead the Rapids to a victory. Omar Cummings contributed with a goal and an assist and Mike Petke rounded out scoring for the Rapids with his second goal this month.
The Rapids are now on a 4 game unbeaten streak and are third in the Western Conference table with 34 points, tied with Real Salt Lake. Chivas USA is in second place with 36 points and Houston are on top with 40. The top 3 teams in each conference get an automatic bid into the playoffs, and the next two best teams regardless of conference round out the group.
Saturday ended a very successful month for the Rapids. After Clavijo was fired at the end of August, the Rapids lost their next two games. It looked as though a coaching change would not be enough to right the ship. Once the smoke settled and the players adjusted to the new coaching, the Rapids have been on a tear. They started the month beating FC Dallas 1-0 at Pizza Hut Park, they followed up that performance with a home victory against Chicago, home tie against New England, and an away victory at NY. The Rapids scored a total of 9 goals this month, marking their best offensive month of the year.
Here is what I attribute the success to.
1) Clavijo is gone. Blaming the coach is easy, but sometimes misplaced. With Clavijo, I don’t think that is the case. He left the rapids with a 40-49-25 regular season record, and a 1-3-2 postseason record. His tenure wasn’t all bad, his strength has always been in spotting talent and development. Under Clavijo, the reserve team won back to back championships. He has produced players such as Omar Cummings, Colin Clark, Nick DiRaimondo, Nick LaBrocca, and Stephen Keel.
2) No Christian Gomez. This past month Gomez has not seen the field, and the Rapids are undefeated. This doesn’t mean the Gomez is hurting the team, but I think the new coaching staff is giving different players a shot and that always breathes energy into a team. I think former Rapids player Herculez said it best:
“I’ve been in the situation three or four times, and the toughest training sessions come when a coach (leaves the team),” forward Herculez Gomez said. “It’s a clean slate. So now, if you’re a developmental player, you got a pep in your step because you know you can prove yourself.”
3) The schedule also plays a role. Dallas was undergoing an adjustment period under new coach Schellas Hyndman, and had only won 3 of their last 14 games before meeting the Rapids. That game gave the Rapids some momentum and they were lucky to face an inconsistent Chicago team at home. Next they faced a Revs team that was suffering from a packed international schedule. The Revolution had only won 2 of their last 10 games starting at the beginning of August. The Rapids handed NY a 4-0 defeat at home, earlier this season. The Red Bulls have undergone many changes since that game, and were on a tear of their own, before September started. They’ve lost 4 out their last 5 games, with Saturday’s matching being their worst defensive performance since their 5-1 loss to Chicago back in May.
So what does this all mean? I think it is a glimmer of hope for Rapids fans. I think Rapids must be beaming with confidence right now and, if they can maintain their form, should be in the playoffs this year. They can’t get too confident yet. The playoff picture in the West is still up for grabs, luckily the Eastern Conference looks to be imploding and the West could get the last two wildcard spots. With NY and DC struggling, and Toronto and KC not looking poised to take advantage of that, there might be a way for the 4th and 5th place West team to sneak into the playoffs.
The Rapids face all Western Conference opponents in their last 4 matches, which means their fate is in their hands. They start October with a game against Houston at Dicks, and then play LA and Chivas at the Home Depot Center, before returning home to face RSL in the last game of the season.