One of the top professional teams in Denver is actually just north of the city. One year after putting together one of the most electrifying seasons in club history, the Colorado Rapids are looking to attack 2017 head on.
"There's a lot of buzz around the city," defender/midfielder Jared Watts said. "We're hoping to have a packed crowd this weekend. We're excited. We know we have a good team coming in, but we want to start the year off in a good way."
The Rapids emerged as the biggest surprise of 2016--which included a second-place league finish and a trip to the conference finals -- just months after finishing at the bottom of the barrel in the league standings in 2014 and 2015.
"I think last year, everybody had the right to overlook us because of the seasons we had prior to that, but we kind of came in and made a statement," Rapids forward Dominique Badji said.
"Last year, we didn't get everyone's best game, and people kind of wrote us off," Rapids head coach Pablo Mastroeni said. "This year, I think we're going to get everyone's best game. They're coming here and putting their best foot forward."
There is no question the Rapids will be circled on their opponents' calendars. Colorado will return Major League Soccer's top defense--a team that allowed the least number of goals last year--and veteran keeper, Tim Howard.
"The staple of our game is defense," Badji said. "Everyone knows us as a defensive team, a team that's very hard to break down and very hard to score goals against."
The Rapids also brought in some new weapons on offense, including forward Alan Gordon, a move that paid off in the preseason.
"The focus of the preseason was really continuing to build on our defensive mentality, but more importantly, emphasizing the attack, and add a couple of principles to the way we want to get the ball forward in wide areas and how we want to move in the attacking third of the field [to] put more pressure on our opponents and score goals," Mastroeni said. "I think the preseason went really well from that perspective, and we're really looking forward to displaying that in the regular season."
While the Rapids may have surprised fans and other teams, there was a quiet confidence in the locker room last year that propelled the team to success.
"We were confident with one another, and we just wanted to get one game better at a time," Watts said. "We set a high standard for last year, though, and we weren't happy with how it ended. It leaves a little bit of a sour taste in your mouth."
Colorado credits a lot of last year's success to its devoted fans who turned out for each and every home game. The Rapids were undefeated at Dick's Sporting Goods Park in 2016 -- a difficult feat -- but one they will try to replicate again this year.
"We have the best 12th man in the league," Mastroeni said. "I think last year we proved that. It's going to be more fighting this year, and really attacking the right way."
"We did a good job at home, getting points, getting wins last year," Watts added. "We want to continue to do that."
2016 was a season of surprises, and is not easy to replicate. But Colorado is working to build off that momentum and, rather than surprise, stay consistent.
"We want to challenge ourselves to be better than last year," Badji said.
The Colorado Rapids open the season on Saturday, March 4, at 4 P.M. at Dick's Sporting Goods Park. The team will host the New England Revolution at home, and fans are encouraged to wear burgundy for the game.