One of the original ten founding members of Major League Soccer (MLS), the Colorado Rapids were founded in 1995, in Commerce City, Colorado, near the Rocky Mountains. The club is owned by Stan Kroenke, an American sports tycoon, who also owns shares in Premier League club Arsenal, and has fostered a close relationship between the two clubs. In 2007, the Rapids came close to changing their name to Arsenal Colorado FC.
The Rapids play in a burgundy kit at home and a sky blue with burgundy trim kit when on their travels, these being the predominant colours of the team’s crest. They play their home matches at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, in Commerce City, just outside of Denver. The Rapids are currently enjoying their thirteenth competitive season in the Western Conference.
The Rapids began life painfully in the inaugural 1996 MLS season, finishing bottom of the Western Conference with the worst record in the league – even though they had managed to attract US star Marcelo Balboa, former Norwich City and Rangers goalkeeper Chris Woods and South African striker Shaun Bartlett. They finished the season with 11 wins, 21 losses and just 29 points.
Next year however, the arrival of former US international Glenn Myernick as head coach shook the Rapids from their early slumber. Introducing several new faces – including Jamaican striker Wolde Harris and goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann, one of four American keepers now playing in the Premier League – Myernick was able to give the team a newfound sense of belief.
Overcoming a poor run of form early in the season, Colorado eventually reached the postseason playoffs, beating FC Dallas in the Western Conference final, thanks to an 87th minute mid-air volley by Chris Henderson. They went on to appear in the 1997 MLS Cup, but lost the final 2-1 to reigning champions DC United. This remains the only time that the club has reached the MLS Cup final.
The next few years found Colorado unable to find a consistent rhythm under Myernick. Despite brining in several high profile players, notably Swedish winger Anders Limpar who had previously enjoyed fruitful spells at Arsenal and Everton, the Rapids enjoyed very limited success until 1999, when they reached the final of the US Open Cup. Once again, Colorado was unable to achieve ultimate victory, falling at the last hurdle to the Rochester Raging Rhinos, 2-0. The manner of defeat was made worse by the fact that the Rhinos, a USL First Division team, remain the only club outside of the MLS to have won the cup since the new league was established.
In 2000, Myernick’s last season in charge, the Rapids reached the quarter-finals of the MLS Cup Playoffs, where they were beaten 3-2 by the Kansas City Wizards. The next season, Tim Hankinson took charge, signing Scottish striker John Spencer. Hankinson reached the playoffs every year during his three year tenure, but failed to win over some fans because of his defensive tactics and several questionable signings. He was responsible for bringing Columbian legend Carlos Valderama to the club in the twilight of his career.
A New Start
In the 2004, Hankinson stepped down and Kroenke Sports Enterprises (KSE) bought the club, instigating a wholesale change in coaching staff. Fernando Clavijo was appointed as new head coach, and several new players were drafted in, including English midfielder Terry Cooke and Jamaican-American striker Jeff Cunningham. The following year saw the team qualify for the playoffs after a striking victory over Dallas in a penalty shootout.
With the expansion of the MLS in 2005, the Rocky Mountains became home to a second football team, Real Salt Lake. In the ensuing years, a neighbourly rivalry has emerged between the two teams, fostered by supporters, who created a competition between the two sides. Each season, the fans of the team with the best regular-season record win the Rocky Mountain Cup and hold onto the trophy themselves until next season’s winner is decided.
In 2006, the Rapids barely qualified for the playoffs but again managed to beat FC Dallas in a penalty shootout to reach the Western Conference final, where they lost to Houston Dynamo, eventual MLS Cup winners that year. The following season saw the Rapids move from the INVESCO Field at Mile High, stadium of NFL team Denver Broncos, to Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, a purpose built soccer stadium. Colorado’s first year in its new stadium was forgettable though – the team failed to qualify for the playoffs and sunk to an embarrassing 5-0 loss to the Seattle Sounders in the US Open Cup. They also surrendered the Rocky Mountain Cup to Real Salt Lake for the first time.
Partnership with Arsenal FC
With the unveiling of the Rapids’ new burgundy and sky blue colours in 2007, the club also announced a new partnership with English Premier League club Arsenal, with the intention of "building the Arsenal brand in the US, helping to improve the quality of football at MLS team Colorado Rapids, and supporting grass roots football in the US".
The collaboration was fostered by Rapids owner Stan Kroenke, who also owns 12.2 per cent of the London club, on top of 50 per cent stake that he holds in Arsenal Broadband, the operator of the club’s website. The relationship has been beneficial for Colorado, providing them with new coaching and player development arrangements. As part of the deal, Arsenal sponsors a cup tournament hosted in Denver, the Arsenal Cup.
In March 2008, before the beginning of the new MLS season, the Rapids’ first team travelled to London for a pre-season tour that concluded with a match against Arsenal’s reserve team at their training ground, which they narrowly lost 2-1.
The Rapids have also forged a strong relationship with CF Pachuca, 2007 champions of the Mexican Primara Division and North American SuperLiga.
Records & Honours
Although the Rapids have been a mainstay of the MLS since its inception in 1996, they have yet to win a major trophy. The team reached the MLS Cup final in 1997, coming runners up to DC United, and also came second in the US Open Cup during the 1999 season, losing out to the Rochester Raging Rhinos, a USL First Division team.
The Rapids have won the Rocky Mountain Cup two out of three times since it was set up, in 2005 and 2006, but lost to Real Salt Lake in 2007. The club’s reserve team has won the MLS Reserve division on two occasions, in 2006 and 2007.
- As of 2006, former striker Paul Bravo is the all-time top goal-scorer for the Colorado Rapids, with 39 goals.
- Midfielder Chris Henderson, who played for the rapids from 1996-98 and from 2002-05, has the most appearances for the club, 178. He also leads the all-time assists leader board with 53.
- Former goalkeeper Joe Cannon has the club record for clean sheets, completing 25 "shutouts" during his four seasons at the club.
Both Bravo (2004) and Henderson (2007) have been inducted into the Colorado Rapids ‘Gallery of Honor’, which was set up in 2004 to celebrate club heroes. Marcelo Balboa was also inducted in the gallery in 2004.
2008 Team Squad
Former US international Fernando Clavijo is currently the head coach of the Colorado Rapids. Of those players listed in the table below, Bouna Coundoul, Jovan Kirovski, Conor Casey, Mike Petke, Herculez Gomez, Ugo Ihemelu and Pablo Mastroeni have all been capped for their respective countries at senior international level. For the 2008 MLS campaign, which began March 23rd 2008, the Rapids squad lined up as follows:
|6||DF||Jose Burciaga Jr||USA|
|25||MF||Pablo Mastroeni (Captain)||USA|
Fixtures & Further Info
Upcoming fixtures, match reports, team news and further information on the Rapids can be found on the club’s official website. The site also has downloadable media, such as photos, wallpapers and videos, and discussion boards for all things relating to the Rapids.
Rocky Mountain News is also an excellent source for club news, and is regularly updated with new stories. It features a quality blog written by sports journalists George Tanner and Angel Hernandez on the Rapids and the MLS in general.
The Big Soccer Forums is a great site for people looking for a place to discuss the Rapids and their other favourite MLS teams, and to see the beautiful game from an American perspective.