There’s no worse place to play a match on the Fourth of July than Colorado. That is, of course, if you're lining up against the Rapids. Colorado have lost just twice in 14 matches all-time on Independence Day and seek another win Sunday, when they face the visiting New York Red Bulls.
This week the Soap Box belongs to Jon Forget, a Denver bar owner and the top man for the new Bulldogs Supporters Group, which is steadily adding to the soccer scene at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. He’s talking about Conor Casey, Mehdi Ballouchy and the Rapids’ need to appeal to an older fan base in the Mile High City.
MLSsoccer.com: You’ve got the Red Bulls in town this week. Nervous at all?
JF: A little, just because the Red Bulls are going through a bit of a resurgence. But what we normally do on the Fourth of July here in Colorado is win the game. Just the emotion of having a full stadium cheering on Independence Day usually carries us through to a victory.
MLSsoccer.com: Do you feel like the Rapids are underrated just because they’re in the Western Conference?
JF: Our team has potential to definitely make the playoffs and maybe make a run, because we made the right changes in the offseason and we have the talent. But I’ll believe it when I see it. I know we have the potential to do something extraordinary this year, and we’re definitely an underdog because we’ve gone three years without making the playoffs. Once we get the points racked up and we get into the playoffs … no one’s going to believe it until we see something.
MLSsoccer.com: So you’re happy with the club’s offseason changes?
JF: Definitely. The big ones were Jeff Larentowicz and Wells Thompson coming in from New England. Both are super scrappy, great at winning the ball, and when they win the ball, they do something smart with it. They add a spark and a tenacity level we just didn’t have in the midfield before. And Marvell Wynne has been incredible in the back. (Coach Gary Smith) has done a great job coaching him to play his position well. The best players from the other teams just absolutely get shut down by his athleticism.
MLSsoccer.com: Give me your impression of Conor Casey this season.
JF: I think he’s been great. A lot of people look at him and they say he’s lazy or he’s slow, but I really feel like he’s clearly one of our better players. When he’s motivated to do it, he’ll go put the ball in the back of the net. He’s starting to find his form from the run of play, and his goal against Seattle was incredible for us (WATCH).
MLSsoccer.com: So what went through your head when the US forwards came up empty at the World Cup?
JF: I think he would have helped the US team. Maybe you don’t use him in every game, but just look at the Ghana game. We kept trying to serve the ball into the box in the air, and nobody could get on the end of any of the crosses. That’s where Conor excels. Obviously there were a lot of choices for Bob Bradley, but it wouldn’t have hurt to have Conor on the roster.
MLSsoccer.com: Do you think the World Cup enthusiasm in Denver will carry over to the Rapids for the rest of the season?
JF: I think so. But what’s been a little frustrating is that the Rapids have focused mainly on families over the last 15 years, and it almost feels like a children’s thing, the mentality. Our goal is to sort of erase that, and make it just like every other sport in the world. It’s a game for adults to enjoy. I want to see men drinking beer and having a good time, and holding their team accountable. And I think they’ve taken a step in the right direction this year, because they’ve really worked well with the supporters to create an environment with a lot more passion and fervor. I think it’ll snowball, and in a few years you’ll see a stadium full of adults there to party, have fun and watch good soccer. It’s a ball right now, we’re having a lot of fun.
MLSsoccer.com: Any on-the-field moves you’ve disagreed with?
JF: Not really. I think Gary’s done a great job with the team. I would like to see Mehdi Ballouchy increase his work rate in the midfield, just because I think there’s been some times when he was lazy and it cost us. He’s clearly a great player, but that other part of his game has to go forward. Off the field, I think the ownership needs to bring in a talisman to help out and who could help draw more fans. There are a ton of real soccer fans in Denver, but I don’t think they’ve given the Rapids enough of a chance.
MLSsoccer.com: Who’s the ideal DP for Denver?
JF: Someone who helps Gary achieve his goals. He has to be a locker room presence who can show some of our younger guys what it’s like to train at an absolutely professional level. I want to see someone who is an unspoken leader, and someone who every single guy on the team looks up to.
MLSsoccer.com: So who is that guy?
JF: Oh man, I don’t know. You look at Arsenal with Cesc Fabregas, or Chelsea with Frank Lampard. I’d like to see someone with that mentality. A two-way player who gets back on the tackle but is always in the right place to put the ball in the net. It’s total football for me. That’s the mentality I want to see from our guys.
MLSsoccer.com: Give me your prediction this weekend, considering you guys never lose on the Fourth of July.
JF: I’m looking at a 2-0 victory. Matt Pickens has been amazing for us in net this season, and we can get the goals. We finally have the team for it this season.