COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – After a disappointing 2-1 defeat to Honduras’ Real España on Wednesday night, the Colorado Rapids have all but conceded their participation in this year’s CONCACAF Champions League is over.
At the bottom of Group B and with two tough games away against Isidro Metapán in El Salvador and at Santos Laguna in Mexico to come, progressing out of the group stages seems like an almost insurmountable task for the Rapids.
It’s no surprise, then, that Colorado have now fixed their gaze on domestic glory.
“With the facilities, the travel, those games [vs. Metapán and Santos] will be very tough,” said head coach Gary Smith. “Our energy now is in competing again for the MLS championship.”
Smith admitted he took a gamble fielding a number of younger and less-experienced players for Wednesday’s game, but defended his choices by emphasizing his concentration is in ensuring solid qualification for the MLS postseason.
“There were some big opportunities [in CCL play] for players in and around the squad and it may have been a bridge too far for some of them,” he said. “I did give more credence to this Saturday’s game [vs. San Jose] than this midweek game [vs. Real España], that is the reality.”
Whoever does play for the Rapids in the final games of the season, the same problems remain for the team that has now lost five straight in both MLS and CCL games. According to forward Andre Akpan, who scored Colorado’s goal against Real España, said a lack of finishing and giving up too many goals have led to losses and a dip in morale, definitely not the ideal combination for a team currently stuck in a rut.
Akpan expects all the first teamers to be back for the Rapids’ final four MLS matches. With the regulars surely to focus on the domestic campaign, chances for the reserves may still come in the club’s two remaining CCL games.
“The young guys will have to step up on the road,” he said. “It will be tough but we can’t completely give up.”
Midfielder Jamie Smith, who saw his first minutes since early July, said the team needs more self-belief to get through the final games of the season.
“I firmly believe we can make the playoffs,” Jamie Smith said. “If we apply ourselves the way we can, there will be nothing to prevent this team from making the playoffs.”
That may not be the case for the CCL. When asked if the campaign was effectively over, the midfielder seemed to agree.
“Who knows?” he said. “Possibly.”