Yes, the Colorado Rapids are in the CONCACAF Champions League. How, you ask, could the the 10th place team in the West with the second fewest points in the league qualify for the CCL? Due to scheduling quirks, last year's Rapids team actually didn't qualify at all. Rather, it was the 2016 Rapids side that finished second in the West with 58 points that gave Colorado their 2018 CCL berth. Unfortunately for the Rapids, that 2016 form is long gone.
2018 is truly a year of change for the Colorado Rapids. Long gone are Kevin Doyle, Mohammed Saeid, Luis Gil, Alan Gordon, Josh Gatt and previous head coach Pablo Mastroeni. In are newcomers Kip Colvey, Tommy Smith, Deklan Wynne, Edgar Castillo, Danny Wilson, Jack McBean, Johan Blomberg, Enzo Martinez, Jack Price and Joe Mason (both from Wolverhampton Wanderers of the English Championship) as well as new head coach Anthony Hudson.
There are numerous question marks heading into the 2018 MLS season. How will the rebuilt defense gel? Do the rapids have enough offensively to stay in most games? Can Gashi remain healthy? Who is the third centerback alongside Tommy Smith and Kortne Ford? What is the much talked about "Rapids way"? Does Anthony Hudson have the chops to coach at this level? And finally, how seriously is the team approaching its upcoming CONCACAF Champions League matches with Toronto FC?
Ask just about any Rapids fan, and you'll hear a similar refrain: The team is using CCL as an extension of their preseason. Since this roster only has about four weeks together, CCL is a way to perhaps develop some chemistry with a rebuilt defense, and to see what, if anything, the new look under Hudson will provide.
About that defense, it appears that the Rapids will line up in a 5-3-2 this season, a formation that Hudson seems to prefer from his time with the New Zealand National Team. Will Hudson stick with the extremely defensive look that New Zealand consistently fielded? Will allow Edgar Castillo and Marlon Hairston to push up the field to really provide width in the attack? If so, will the three centerbacks and new #6 Jack Price be able to consistently lock it down in front of a Tim Howard who looked every bit of his thirty eight years towards the end of the 2017 MLS campaign?
The offense has plenty of question marks heading into Tuesday. Though the Rapids may have addressed some of those issues by signing Joe Mason, he will not be available until at least the second leg in Toronto, leaving Dominique Badji the only starting caliber healthy striker on the roster. Gashi picked up a knock in preseason in Tucson, Jack McBean is more of a late game banger at this stage and Enzo Martinez has shown extremely well but looks to be more of a depth signing than a night in, night out starter. That doesn’t exactly inspire faith in the least proficient offense in MLS in 2017.
If there is a bright light to starting CCL against TFC, it’s that the first leg is at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, where despite the Rapids overall struggles they were a solid 8-5-4 last season. Best-case scenario is to smash and grab a win at home and hope for a draw in Toronto, but even that is a tall order with the defending MLS Supporters’ Shield and MLS Cup winners heading to town. It seems that Toronto is going to make a real push for CCL glory with how they have prepared for the tournament, traveling through Mexico and playing games against Liga MX sides during their preseason. Meanwhile, the Rapids are preparing for the season by staying stateside in Tucson, AZ, and playing a mixture of MLS and USL teams.
After winning MLS cup in 2010, the Rapids participated in CCL in 2011 and were ousted after losing home matches to Santos Laguna (4-1) and Real Espana (2-1). This year the Rapids faithful are just hoping that the team shows them signs of development, cohesion and improvement over a dismal 2017.