COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – The funny thing about the Colorado Rapids’ 2-0 Knockout Round loss to the Seattle Sounders is that it doesn’t really bother head coach Oscar Pareja all that much. OK, the result itself certainly does, but the Rapids’ play in the game isn’t what keeps Pareja up at night.
No, it’s the way they played in their final two road games of the 2013 regular season that best highlights what the young Rapids need to do to take the next step forward in their rebuilding project. In a 1-0 loss in San Jose on Oct. 9 and a 3-0 loss in Vancouver on Oct. 27, they couldn’t adapt to a more physical and defensive style of play and couldn’t find a way to "win ugly" – particularly on the road.
“That’s an assignment that we have to be better at,” Pareja told reporters last week. “We have to be able to win ugly games and be able to get results when we must get them. That’s a mentality that sometimes it’s not going to be pretty, it’s not going to be sunny, but you still have to go.”
By the end of the season, a disturbing trend developed for the Rapids: It became all-or-nothing for them. In their final seven games of the season, they scored 10 goals in their three wins (all at home), and they didn’t score a single goal in their four losses (all on the road). In short, the offense either clicked or it didn’t, and when it didn’t, the Rapids couldn’t find a way to grind their way to a result.
When everything was clicking, the Rapids possessed the ball, create dfrequent chances and played eye-catching, attack-oriented soccer. But teams appeared to figure that out by the end of the season and the Rapids didn’t have an answer.
When big, physical teams were able to stymie their ability to hold the ball and create opportunities, frustrating games like San Jose and Vancouver happened. And it’s something the team knows it has to work on heading into next season.
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“You always have to be able to win ugly, especially in MLS, especially in the playoffs, especially late in the season,” Rapids defender Drew Moor told MLSsoccer.com last week. “You go on the road to San Jose and you lose an ugly game, you go on the road to Vancouver and you lose an even uglier game. You have to realize we’re in the playoffs now and it doesn’t have to be pretty, it just needs to be competitive. You just need to do what you need to do to win games, and that just comes with experience.”
There isn’t one true way to ‘win ugly.’ But Pareja believes it’s a mentality, and it’s one he acknowledges his team needs to adapt to collect more points in 2014 and beyond.
“Sometimes, for me, the 1-0 result is the one I like the most because that denotes discipline and tightness and desire, big character,” Pareja said. “We have to improve in that. That’s the bitterness that I have from Vancouver and San Jose.”
Chris Bianchi covers the Colorado Rapids for MLSsoccer.com.