Think the stakes are high in the Audi 2021 MLS Cup Playoffs? Try being Cole Bassett's family and friends on Thanksgiving.
Bassett's top-seeded Colorado Rapids host four-seed Portland Timbers in the first-ever Thanksgiving Day MLS contest Thursday (4:30 pm ET | FOX, FOX Deportes) in a win-or-go-home Western Conference Semifinal.
To hear Bassett tell the Extratime crew on Monday, the size of the dinner afterward depends directly on the result.
"It depends if we have friends or not," Bassett said of his family's Turkey Day plans. "We’ve got to get a win first, otherwise we don’t really want to talk to too many people. So if we win, then we’ll have a lot of people. Maybe like 15 or so? Something like that."
The match marks arguably the biggest occasion for the Rapids since Gary Smith led them to their lone MLS Cup victory in 2010 — or as the 20-year-old Rapids homegrown calls it, fourth grade.
It's certainly the height of Robin Fraser's managerial tenure, which began with a promising flourish to close the 2019 season, followed by consecutive postseason appearances in 2020 and 2021.
Bassett's five goals and four assists across 32 appearances in 2021 make him one of many key contributors to a regular-season conference title few saw coming. Approaching the end of his fourth pro season, Bassett identifies Fraser's arrival as the event that flipped the switch for his hometown club.
"Once Robin Fraser came in, it kind of just changed the culture in the locker room," the midfielder said. Fraser "brought in guys that know how to win, and also guys that are hungry to win. A lot of younger guys – guys like [Auston] Trusty and Jonathan Lewis, guys from different clubs in MLS, that’s what I think just bringing the whole group together has gotten us where we are."
It's also the reason Bassett turned down an offer from Portuguese giants Benfica this summer. Fraser's arrival not only brought the creation of a team Bassett believed could win silverware, but the personal sense he was continuing to grow on the field.
That was enough for him to wait on Europe, even with a lofty goal of working into the US men's national team picture by the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
"You do look at the guys that are in the national team in my position, and almost all of them except for maybe [Sebastian] Lletget are over in Europe," Bassett said. "So I think that’s a place that maybe I will need to end up just to continue my career. But the whole reason why I stayed right now is I feel like I’m still developing here under Robin Fraser. If I didn’t feel that, I think I would’ve left."
Europe's temporary loss is the Rapids' gain, with Bassett among the players who give Fraser arguably MLS' deepest roster. That depth is a major reason Colorado reached this stage – the higher seed in a final eight postseason clash against a perennial league power.
"I think Robin always says it, the biggest strength is the team," Bassett said. "We could probably put 20 guys out there before you think, this actually might hurt our team a little bit in terms of quality. I think that’s a big plus for us. A lot of teams have maybe 14 guys that they trust.
"In terms of tactics, I think we’re so fluid in terms of the systems that we play and the movement. Robin’s kind of made it that, throughout games, we kind of just learn, we kind of think the same way as Robin. We’re kind of just fluidly moving throughout the game, and we all know that we have to be in certain spots kind of, but it kind of doesn’t matter who’s where and what system we’re playing. It changes all the time and I think that kind of messes with teams through games as they don’t really know where we’re going to end up eventually."
For more of Bassett's Extratime interview, listen here.