Written by: Ian Campbell
The road through the playoffs wasn’t easy for the Rapids. Each step of the way was a challenge that had to be overcome. But from a fan’s perspective, it’s hard to imagine a better way for the Rapids to have done it.
The first leg of the playoffs was against Columbus at the Dick (Remember). I went with the Bulldog Supporter’s Group (as with most games) and met up at the British Bulldog to bus over to DSG around 4pm. There was a lot of energy at the Bulldog. The regulars for the games were already kitted up and ready to go, but there were also a lot of new faces. There were enough people ready to go that BSG was forced to grab a second bus for the trip for the first time since July 4th. At the park, each supporter’s group was ready for kickoff.
Colorado had caught a break because Columbus was forced to start the backup goalie after the starter dislocated his should in the final game of the year. The first half carried all the action for this game: Pablo Mastroeni scored a rare goal on a slide to make it 1-0. From there out it was the standard back and forth of well-matched teams and Columbus never pushed that hard for an equalizer because of the aggregate nature of the series.
A 1-0 home win was nothing to scoff at, but it wasn’t the dominating performance that many fans had grown accustomed to over the summer. After a string of 3 goal wins, I had expected a bit more, especially with the large crowd that had shown up at the Dick to support the Rapids.
The second game of the series found me at Stoney’s Pub on Broadway with my FC Denver teammates. When Colorado was down 2-0 late in the second half, facing elimination, I know that both crowds were behind the boys, and when Conor Casey struck one home near the end of regulation, the group went apeshit. I was hugging people I had just been introduced to, I had beer spilled on my head, and I felt like everyone in the crowd was my brother. It was exactly what I expected when I showed up.
Through the nail-biter overtime, no one really spoke. It felt like more tension, living and dying on each play, until the final whistle sounded and everyone breathed a nervous sigh. Amazingly, Matt Pickens went the wrong way every single time a Columbus shooter was up but we were still in it on the fifth shot. It came down to Brian Carroll for Columbus having to make his shot to keep Columbus in contention and finally Pickens went the right direction. Not that it matter because Carroll struck his shot well over the goal and Rapids were going to have a home playoff game against San Jose.
The atmosphere at the Bulldog before the buses left to the home game vs Columbus was electric. Four buses had been arranged to shuttle fans to and from the game, giving BSG a serious representation on the terrace. It was great to see my FC Denver boys at the Bulldog before the game, though I didn’t think they were nearly as bundled up as they needed to be with temperatures expected to hover around freezing. I guess all the shots that Eric was buying helped them make it through the game unscathed.
The bus ride over took the energy from the Bulldog and multiplied it. All the newbies to the BSG were duly initiated using the old songs that would be the mainstay of the night. The grounds were buzzing when we got there, the whole tailgate was crowded and the beer was flowing. BSG had come up with four kegs to quench the thirst and a pig roast to build a base for the beer. It was easy to forget the wind with hundreds of people milling around in front of DSG. There was only one sour note played at the tailgate: one San Jose fan threw a punch after the jeers from BSG overwhelmed him. It was nice to see his ticket confiscated and him escorted away by Commerce City police after that.
When I entered the stadium, I was quickly reminded by security that it was alright to heckle the other team while they warmed up, but I should really avoid dropping so many F-bombs if I wanted to stay in the park. After an incident at the final game of the year against Real Salt Lake, the staff at Dick’s allowed the return of streamers for this game, and they were able to make their triumphant appearance when Kosuke Kimura looped a cross in for Omar Cummings that happened to find its way into the back corner of the net. A few good saves from Jon Busch “League” kept San Jose close, but in the end it was Colorado hearts that were beating proudly as the Rapids won the Eastern Conference Final.
The week leading up to the Cup seemed like an eternity. All I could talk about was how great the game would be and how there was no way the Rapids would lose to Dallas (they never have in the playoffs). The usual staple of EPL games wasn’t enough to sate my appetite for soccer; I had to see this game.
The day of the game found me arriving at the Bulldog with my girlfriend Maria around 4:15. I had wanted to be there earlier to secure some space but my steel drum concert had been scheduled in September and I wasn’t going to miss the first one in my blossoming career. As kickoff loomed, the Bulldog kept jamming more people in. I wasn’t sure where they were going but every once in a while I’d notice that my neighbors were just a bit closer to me than they had been before.
When kickoff finally came there wasn’t a spare inch in the Bulldog. Wall to wall people and beer. Everyone in Rapids Burgundy. The songs had started right after we’d arrived and hadn’t stopped since. The staff at the Bulldog did a fantastic job keeping the crowd wet. And even when David Ferreira put his lone mark on the game, the spirit didn’t dampen. “Total eclipse of the Rapids” was sung and the energy picked back up.
At halftime the line to the bathroom was prohibitive if you wanted to get back to your seat so most people just hoped for an out and out win in the second half. When Conor Casey kicked the ball in while straddling Kevin Hartman, the pub just exploded. Streamers flew across the room, getting caught in the fans and spinning around like a May Day celebration. Throngs of people were jumping up and down, spilling beer in every direction. Glassware was dropped and smashed against the floor. It was the loudest celebration I’d ever heard and then the songs praising Conor Casey started. We were back in it and the bar somehow seemed more full than it was at the start of the game. As we approached overtime the tension was palpable. Outbursts were becoming commonplace as the players staggered toward the finish.
The introduction of new players during the 90th minute led to a sigh of relief among the crowd. Our side had looked tired, unable to finish the job at hand, but now seemed to have new life. With Kandji’s final effort of the season, he once again brought the crowd to its feet. As the ball looped into the corner behind Hartman, you could feel the intake of breath around the room and as it touched down in the goal, it was once again bedlam in the Bulldog. This was a celebration of victory, pulling ahead in the quest for the cup. It was as if the pub rewound to the 55th minute and played it all over again, with streamers flying, more glassware broken, and more noise than I’d thought anyone could make after all the commotion of the first 110 minutes.
The crowd took it to the next level for the final ten minutes, hoping their support would travel all the way to Toronto as the Rapids struggled to hold on with 10 players. There was never a quiet moment and every player was mentioned, especially Matt Pickens and Drew Moor after their goal saving efforts.
And when the final whistle blew, the crowd raised the roof for a third time, making sure that every block around knew that we had done it. “WE’VE GOT THE CUP, WE’VE GOT THE CUP” reverberated throughout the room. The door kicked open and TV cameras shown in on the celebration. Balloons had been released and were floating through the air, popping as they came down among the jumping revelers. Fans were on the tables, dancing on the bar, chanting in unison to celebrate the victory.
I was overcome and unsure what to think after waiting for 15 years. It finally started making sense the next day when I went out to the Dick to see the team come back from Toronto. As the bus pulled up and Pablo put the Cup in the front window it all started making sense. Fans surrounded Pablo as he paraded the Cup through the crowd, everyone reaching out to get just a touch of the most coveted trophy in American soccer. We wanted it more. The whole of Colorado wanted the Cup more. We wanted it more than the die-hards for San Jose, Columbus, and Dallas because Colorado is THE soccer state and the Rapids are our team, and we wanted it more.