Colorado Rapids keep surging in Shield race, despite underdog perception

COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – Unbeaten in eight games following their latest result, a 1-0 victory over the Seattle Sounders, Colorado Rapids head coach Pablo Mastroeni once again credited belief as the driving factor in his team’s continued success, regardless of what is being said about the group outside the Rapids' locker room.

“You’ve got to believe in yourself as an individual, you’ve got to believe in what we’re doing as a group,” Mastroeni told the assembled media at practice this week. “You’ve got to believe that even when you’re down, as we’ve been this year on the road, that you’re going to come back. Then that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy of belief. With that belief, the men have done some great things.”

Assistant head coach John Spencer, who has spent time on the coaching staffs of three different MLS teams, agreed that belief is a key factor in the success for any club.

“We’ve seen it with many teams throughout Major League Soccer,” Spencer told reporters on Wednesday. “When teams get off to a good start, that belief and that confidence comes. Most teams continue that form throughout the season. For us, it’s no different.”

While the belief remains strong within the Rapids locker room, doubt has still lingered among outsiders. Colorado is now in its fifth-straight week of sitting atop the Supporter’s Shield standings, yet has only been atop’s power rankings for two of those weeks. Additionally, the Rapids have only recently found themselves atop similar rankings from ESPN FC, Sports Illustrated's Planet Fútbol and SBI Soccer.

“I don’t feel disrespected at all,” Spencer said of the lack of recognition from soccer media. “You win respect by winning games, by winning championships and by competing for playoffs. All I can say is we’ve raised a few eyebrows with what we’re doing this year.”

Rapids captain Sam Cronin said that he and his teammates pay little mind to what goes on outside the walls of Dick’s Sporting Goods Park.

“I personally don’t pay attention [to the media]. For the most part, I don’t feel like we do. We’re pretty sheltered,” Cronin said. “There’s a lot of stuff that flies around, good and bad in the media and social media, in particular. I think it just distracts from the task we have at hand here.”

The Rapids aren’t paying attention to the criticisms and are likewise not buying into the hype surrounding a first-place team.

“Being in first place now, that really means very little,” Cronin added. “We’ve just got to keep getting wins and getting healthy and keep focused on the little tasks we have each week. If we start thinking about standings or media or anything else, it can be a distraction.”

It’s made it all the easier for Colorado to continue to embrace the role of underdog, despite the Rapids’ newfound success of 2016.

“Historically, this club has been in that position,” Cronin said. “Coming into the season, there weren’t big expectations outside this locker room on us, so I think we’re the underdogs. Even in first place, we’ll still continue to be the underdogs and it’s our job every Saturday to prove we’re a good team and that we’re going places.”