Kevin Doyle - Colorado Rapids - On the ball
USAToday Sports

As season draws to a close, Colorado Rapids aim for return to winning ways

COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – After jumping out to a white-hot start to their 2016 campaign, the Colorado Rapids have cooled down a bit. It's not a full-on slump, but they'd like to start taking all three points more often.

During their last nine matches, the Rapids have won just twice and drawn six times. They're still picking up points – only one loss in their last 19 matches – but not at the early pace that saw them leading the Supporters Shield standings in the early going before FC Dallas surpassed them (though with two games in hand, the Rapids average a league-leading 1.79 points per game.)

“Every game is worth three points and at the end of the day, we want to maximize the results, especially against Western Conference rivals,” said head coach Pablo Mastroeni, ahead of Friday's Rocky Mountain Cup tilt at Real Salt Lake (8pm ET; UniMás | MLS LIVE in Canada). “It’s one game at a time. I don’t look at it as taking five [points] out of the next three road games. I want nine, but we’ll go one game at a time.”

For the players, it’s been important to keep a positive perspective on their recent results.

“You obviously want to win the games,” said striker Kevin Doyle. “It’s hard to be disappointed, because we’re obviously getting points and not losing. No one is getting away from us at the top of the table. You want to win them, but you don’t want to get overly disappointed. You don’t want to get too greedy.”

Midfielder Shkëlzen Gashi agreed.

“We want to win all games,” Gashi said. “Now, for the rest of this season every point is important, whether it’s one or three points. Sometimes you want the win, but you have to say yes, we’ll take the point home. We go into the game wanting three points.”

Yet Colorado has been winning on something of a tightrope, logging only a single game with more than two goals, with Designated Players Doyle and Gashi co-leading the team at four goals apiece. Doyle called that a sign that the Rapids are now gaining respect from opponents around MLS – particularly at home, where they remain unbeaten (9-0-4).

“I’ve felt at home, teams are happy to slow the game down and they’re delighted with a draw,” Doyle said. “They’re high-fiving each other, and I understand that with the altitude and the fact that we’re going well. Last season, the games were a bit more open.”

The draws haven’t come without opportunities. In scoreless home outings against Portland on July 4 and Orlando City last weekend, athe Rapids outshot their opponents 13-7 and 14-8, respectively.

“I think we’re creating enough opportunities. We just need to be better with our chances,” Mastroeni said. “It’s everyone. As a group, we need to be committed to putting numbers in the box. The last couple of games, there’s been opportunities where the ball sinks in across the back post, and if there’s someone there, it’s a tap-in.”

Other factors play into the scoring struggles as well, Gashi explained: the injury absence of midfielder Jermaine Jones, an adjustment to new addition Sébastien Le Toux and the outstanding play of opposing goalkeepers.

“We want to score, but the most important thing is we want to win the game,” Gashi said. “If a defensive player scores, we’re also happy. What we need to do is maybe create some more chances, but we are on a good way and we need to stay positive.”

At the same time, the Rapids aren’t looking to stray too far from the tactics and identity that have kept them within striking distance of first place in the Western Conference and Shield standings.

“The way we play is we’re very solid defensively," Doyle said. "Our first thought is to not concede. That’s gotten us where we are and it’s not a negative. It’s going to be a close game. We’re not going to change the way we play. Teams are going to have to come out more to try to make the playoffs.

"As the season goes on, teams are going to be desperate for wins, and hopefully that’s going to open up the game a bit more.”