The Colorado Rapids spent 2021 proving doubters wrong across Major League Soccer.
In 2022, the same task begins on a continental level in their Concacaf Champions League opener Thursday night against Guatemala’s Comunicaciones FC (7 pm ET | FS2, TUDN).
“I think it’s huge and the club thinks it’s huge,” Rapids manager Robin Fraser said of Colorado’s third CCL appearance and first since 2018.
“The Champions League is the pinnacle in terms of our region,” he added. “It always comes back to no MLS has won it yet, and it is a carrot dangling in front of us. We’d certainly like to be the first, just like every MLS team in it would like to be the first. It would be absolutely incredible to win it.”
Fraser was then-Toronto FC manager Gregg Vanney’s deputy during their 2018 run, which TFC lost in penalty kicks to Liga MX's Chivas Guadalajara after a 3-3 aggregate tie across two legs, including an MLS regulation-time victory at the famed Estadio Akron.
Perhaps getting so close four years ago is why Fraser sounds far more bullish on the Rapids’ hopes than their manager in their previous CCL appearance. In 2018, incoming Rapids boss Anthony Hudson openly viewed the event as preparatory in nature for the MLS regular season.
It also helps that the Rapids – despite their lack of a nationally-known star – are in a much stronger place as a squad, only a few months removed from their finish atop the Western Conference table.
“We feel like we are pushing the club forward in the last couple of years and this is a step for us that we’re really excited about,” Fraser said.
That’s not to say Colorado feel comfortable approaching Leg 1 of their Round of 16 series against Comunicaciones, among the most experienced clubs in Concacaf in terms of CCL appearances.
Los Cremas carry perhaps the most proven striker in the series in Ecuadorian Juan Luis Anangonó, a former Designated Player with Chicago Fire FC. He also has Copa Libertadores and Copa Sudamericana credentials from his time at LDU Quito.
“When I was at Chivas USA [in 2011-12], he was one of the players that we seriously wanted to try to go and get,” Fraser recalled. "It’s a small world, so here we are again. And their attacking midfielder, their number 10, Jose Contreras, he’s a very good player."
The Rapids proved themselves plenty capable of scoring by committee in 2021, with six players contributing four or more league goals. And while Thursday could bring the competitive club debut of 20-year-old Brazilian attacking midfielder Max Alvez, signed in January through the U22 Initiative, Fraser is still counting on more or less the same cast of attacking characters for now.
He’s also bullish on Diego Rubio potentially returning to something close to his 2019 form, when the Chilean scored a career-high 11 league goals.
“He has been laser-focused since his first day of preseason,” Fraser said. “He’s very goal-hungry at the moment. When Diego is firing on all cylinders, he’s a really big help in our build-up play, and he’s one of the most conscientious No. 9s I’ve ever been around.”