They might not yet be getting the national attention as some of the other teams near the top of the table, but the Colorado Rapids are quietly putting together a case as a Western Conference frontrunner to start 2021.
Through eight matches, head coach Robin Fraser's group sits at 5W-2L-1D, good for third in the West and fourth on the league table overall. It's still early in the season, and the sample size remains relatively small, but the Rapids are thus far demonstrating the types of traits that can create a sustainably winning formula: Dogged defense, opportunistic finishing and an aptitude for procuring results on the road.
On Wednesday, the Rapids will have perhaps their toughest test yet in their midweek matchup against Sporting Kansas City at Children's Mercy Park (8:30 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+) that pits them against the team currently one spot ahead of them on the table.
"This is a huge test for us," Fraser told reporters on his Tuesday video call. "Kansas City, year in and year out has been one of the best teams in the league, certainly their place in the standings shows that this year. A very, very well coached and organized team, very talented players all over the place. So for us it's a huge test, a huge challenge. We've had some decent performances over the last number of weeks, but you always look at certain teams as real benchmarks as to where you are and certainly this is one of them."
To get a result, it will take a sound performance in one of the league's most hostile opposing venues, which is something that the Rapids have proven proficient at dating back to the start of Fraser's tenure in 2019. Under Fraser, Colorado have a 9W-6L-2D away record, an impressive mark in a league where traveling can be notoriously difficult. So far this season, the Rapids are 2W-1L-1D away from Dick's Sporting Goods Park.
"The bottom line is, you talk about the good road results that we've had, we have a good, honest, hard-working team," Fraser said. "And at the end of the day that's what it takes to win on the road, you have to have people who play with a lot of determination and intelligence and we certainly have that. We have a very unselfish group, who, they just work and cover each other and when you do that on the road sometimes that's good enough to thwart what the opponent's trying to do and you gain some opportunities out of it as well. ...The bottom line is that it's such a hard-working, unselfish team, that's really the reason for the results we've had on the road."
Those attributes will certainly be put to the test against an SKC side that is in form at the moment, and is currently undefeated at Children's Mercy Park, making the matchup one of the more intriguing bouts of Wednesday's slate in MLS.
As with any team facing SKC, trying to stop standout forward Alan Pulido will be one of Colorado's top priorities. Fraser gave his scouting on the talented Mexico international, who has scored five goals and dished out one assist in his seven starts this season.
"His season so far is almost irrelevant because we're concerned about him tomorrow night," Fraser said. "He's a very, very good player. His movement is extremely intelligent, he helps combine, move the team up the field and then in front of the goal — you have different types of forwards: Forwards who really just need service on their own, he can finish off service, and then you have forwards who can make their own shots. And when you have forwards who are capable of both then they become exponentially more difficult to deal with, and he's certainly a player who can make his own shots, create his own opportunities, create opportunities for others and finish on crosses."