2011 Club by Club
New England Revolution
New York Red Bulls
Real Salt Lake
San Jose Earthquakes
Sporting Kansas City
The Colorado Rapids were always going to be up against it in 2011 in trying to defend their remarkable 2010 MLS Cup victory. A spate of injuries and grueling travel brought on by their debut in the CONCACAF Champions League made that task almost impossible.
Conor Casey was lost to a torn Achilles in midseason and Omar Cummings was in and out of the lineup due to injuries and national-team call-ups, leaving the Rapids without the strike duo that carried them to their championship. The tandem combined for 25 regular-season goals in 2010; they had just nine in 2011.
With veteran midfielder Brian Mullan's 10-game suspension early on for his tackle on Steve Zakuani and ironman Drew Moor absent at a crucial time of the season, too many senior players were affected for the Rapids to stand a realistic chance of defending the Cup.
Posting a record of 12-9-13, the Rapids finished fifth in the West to qualify for the wildcard game against Columbus. They had success in this game, but would come unstuck in the Conference Semifinals against a rampant Sporting Kansas City.
However there were several highlights, one of them being the timing of Colorado’s 4-1 thrashing of the New York Red Bulls on July 20. Coming just a few days after Casey went down with his season-ending injury, it boosted the side’s morale exponentially. With Sanna Nyassi bursting onto the scene with a hat trick in this game, it seemed – at the time, at least – as if the Rapids wouldn’t have to get overly worried about missing their big man.
Without doubt the firing of former head coach Gary Smith at the end of the season was the low point for Rapids. The decision leaves Colorado in a state of flux with the future uncertain for many of the players. Just one year after coaching the team to its first MLS Cup title and the first trophy in franchise history, the Englishman was dispatched amid a highly publicized feud between him and technical director Paul Bravo.
The season was littered with a host of quality strikes from Smith’s charges, but Nyassi’s strike at Philadelphia on July 29 provided another example of the growing understanding between the Gambian and Cummings. It was a perfect goal in so many ways – the optimal weighted pass from Cummings, the inch-perfect timing of Nyassi’s run, his first-time finish and the timing of the goal in the game. Nyassi’s strike took it to 2-0 before the Union’s furious late rally almost pinched two points back for the home team.
Matt Pickens proved a beast in net all season long, as the Rapids let in 41 goals, and shored up defensively towards the end of the campaign. Pickens made a tremendous save as LA Galaxy defender Todd Dunivant’s header looked certain to be goal-bound on Sept. 9, but Pickens produced a hugely athletic dive down to his right to push the ball around the post. A goal there and it would have been 1-0 to the Galaxy before the break. As it was, Pickens’ brilliance in that first half, especially, kept his team in the game.
In a year where the forwards didn’t light up the turf for whatever reasons, perhaps the focus should be on the defense. Drew Moor proved invaluable all season long and was a rock in the heart of the defense. The versatile defender beat the MLS all-time record for most consecutive 90-minute games during the season, proving his worth time and again either at the heart of defense or as a left fullback. His effect was most notable when he wasn’t able to play in the second leg of the Eastern Conference Semifinals at Sporting Kansas City. The Rapids lamented his absence on the crucial set pieces that allowed SKC to advance convincingly.
Nyassi was by far the pick of the bunch from the new acquisitions. The Gambian hit his stride after Casey went down, which provided him with an opportunity to play in a more aggressive central position in partnership with Cummings. The combination proved a hit, as he and Cummings were the No. 1 strike partnership right until the end of the season.