Only one of five founding members of Major League Soccer still playing under its original name from the inaugural season of 1996, Denver-based Colorado Rapids has only once been crowned winners.
Owned by ‘Silent’ Stan Kroenke, also Arsenal’s largest shareholder, the club has been playing the soccer-specific new-build stadium, Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, towards Denver International Airport, since 2007.
The MLS Cup win came in 2010. Key player then, defensive midfielder Pablo Mastroeni, has been Rapids coach since 2014.
Back in 1997, the hero was fellow Argentine-American, 127-cap US defender Marcelo Balboa, whose goals against Kansas City Wizards helped take Rapids to a first MLS Final, a defeat at D.C. United. In 2000, Balboa scored from a spectacular overhead at Columbus Crew to win Goal of the Year. Rapids then failed to get past the Quarterfinal stage of the Playoffs for the third year running.
Staying at the Mile High home stadium of Denver Broncos, rebuilt in 2001, Rapids attracted a league high 20,690 average gate as it made the MLS Semifinals of 2002. Goals from former Colombian World Cup star Carlos Valderrama and ex-Chelsea striker John Spencer proved too much for Dallas Burn in the course of the three-game Western Conference Semifinal, an overtime goal from Mark Chung setting up a Conference Final with eventual winners LA Galaxy.
In 2005, Rapids required penalties to overcome Dallas, the first struck by later Colorado coach Pablo Mastroeni, but LA Galaxy was still too strong in the Conference Final.
Wearing the burgundy and blue of new owner Kroenke’s sports empire, in 2007 Rapids moved out of the Mile High home of NFL’s Denver Broncos and into a new-build stadium in the suburb of Commerce City.
Upon opening, Dick’s Sporting Goods Park saw the arrival hometown striker Conor Casey and, in 2010, the building of a supporters’ terrace as Rapids gained an ever more vociferous following.
Coming to Denver as part of Stan Kroenke’s Arsenal partnership, former Wycombe Wanderers midfielder Gary Smith had galvanised his Rapids squad during his first full season as coach in 2009.
Impregnable at home, and building up a slow-burn rivalry with fellow Rocky Mountain side Real Salt Lake, Rapids marched past Columbus and San Jose to reach the MLS Cup Final in 2010. Against Dallas in Toronto, a bullish Casey equaliser took a scrappy game to extra time. A Macoumba Kandji shot then deflected off Dallas defender George John to settle the tie, and bring the MLS Cup to Denver for the first and so far only time. Smith became the first English coach to win the trophy.
Injuries to Casey, Mastroeni and Kandji during his Cup Final heroics affected similar progress in 2011 and, in 2012, Smith was replaced by former FC Dallas assistant coach Óscar Pareja.
Pareja’s Rapids failing to spark, former club captain Mastroeni came in as coach in 2014.
After a poor first two campaigns, in 2016 Mastroeni welcomed the arrival of legendary US internationals Tim Howard in goal and Jermaine Jones in midfield. With former San Jose midfielder Sam Cronin as captain, Rapids made second spot behind Dallas in the regular season.
Two mighty penalty saves from Howard in front of 17,782 in the deciding home leg of Conference Semifinal then dispatched pre-game favorite LA Galaxy in a shootout.
Twenty years after its formation, approaching a decade at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, Colorado Rapids missed the presence of keeper Howard in the Conference Final first-leg defeat at Seattle. Another MLS Final, though, is not out of the question.
Spectacular jagged peaks tower over the soccer-specific Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, towards Denver International Airport, some eight miles from downtown Denver. Here the city melts into the endless prairie, with few other significant buildings in the vicinity.
Before its construction in 2005-07, Colorado Rapids had been based at the home of Denver Broncos at Mile High, attracting record 20,000-plus average crowds in 2002.
Winning awards for design, with an excellent playing surface of Kentucky Bluegrass and centerpiecing a complex of 24 floodlit sports fields, the DSGP stadium has hosted several international matches, including Brazil in a pretournament warm-up before the 2016 World Cup.
For major matches, capacity can rise to 19,734 from its regular 18,061. Average for Rapids in the 2016 regular season was 16,278.
The stadium is two miles north of the nearest stop, Central Park (zone B, $2.60), on the newly opened A Line of the RTD light rail network. The line then goes on to Denver Airport ($9 from the center).
From Central Park station, the half-hourly #88 bus runs two stops/8min to 56th & Quebec, about 500 yards from the Halftime Sports Bar on Quebec, and another 500 yards from the stadium.
All in all, it’s time-consuming and impractical by public transit – and parking is included in the price of each match ticket.
Nearly 5,000 parking spaces surround the stadium (6000 Victory Way, Commerce City, CO 80022). Lots A and AA are for Rapids Season Ticket Members.
There are three main entrances: Quebec & E. 60th Avenue, Quebec & Prairie Parkway (64th Avenue), and 56th Avenue & Valentia Street. From Denver International Airport, exit on Pena Boulevard toward Interstate 70, before exiting West on E. 56th Avenue. After 10min, turn right, North onto Valentia Street and the stadium.
Also note that Rapids supporters group Centennial 38 runs match-day buses from a number of downtown sports pubs.
For advance sales, the Main Box Office (Mar-Oct Mon-Fri 9am-5pm, Sat 10am-3pm; Nov-Feb Mon-Fri 10am-5pm) is between Gates F and G on the West side of the stadium. It also operates during all sporting events at the stadium, as does the window on the East side of the stadium behind Section 107 at Gate B.
These two outlets open 1hr 30min before kickoff.
The most vocal and visual Rapids supporters, Centennial 38, gather at the Terrace in the North end of the stadium, and in Sections 108 (East) and 117 (South end).
Visiting supporters are allocated Section 100, by Gate A, in the North corner of the East Stand of the stadium – up close to The Terrace.
The most expensive seats are in the West Sideline, around $70 during the Playoffs, $50 in the South Stand, $40 for the cheapest places in the North Bleachers/Corner. Prices drop by about half during the regular season.
Altitude Authentics has several outlets around the stadium. The Main Store (Fri 10am-5pm, match days from 10am) is on the West side, by the Box Office at Gate G. Another outlet near Gate C in the Southeast Corner operates from 10am on match days.
Long-sleeved Rapids jerseys, primary and secondary, retail at $150. Hats and caps, including one with a snapback of the Denver skyline, are $25-$30. Foamhands go for $10.
The Centennial 38 Rapids supporters group sets up tailgates on the South side of the stadium from around three hours before kickoff. Visiting supporters are allocated the West side of the stadium, between Lot BB and field 19
Free stadium tours are given year-round, Mon-Fri 9am-6pm, tickets available from the Main Box Office between Gates F and G. Contact 303-727-3599 for more information.
Aramark Sports & Entertainment runs nine concessions stands around the stadium. Note also that the club has a link with Colorado craft brewers Odell, so you should be able to find its amber 90 Shilling ale being sold.
Most Rapids fans congregate at the huge, TV-dotted Eighteen76 Bar at the home South end of the stadium, between Gates D and E. Burgers, wraps and Budweisers are served super-quick from two hours before kickoff and up to 90min after final whistle.
Behind the bar/restaurant is a taxi service and a $5-$6 ride/30min walk away , the family-friendly outlets of the Northfield Stapleton retail hub. These include the Stapleton Tap House, specializing in the many Colorado craft beers, some 30 in all.
There’s a further 35-40 choices of tap beer at Brothers Bar & Grill, where Northfield Blvd meets Main Street, plus a big menu and plenty of TV screens.
On either side of Northfield Boulevard, you’ll find the classic meaty treats of Jim’n’ Nicks Bar-B-Q in one direction, in the other, the more drink-centric Bar Louie, with its shooter and cocktail deals, live music on Saturdays and weekday happy hours.
The closest pub to the stadium, however, walking distance at the corner of Quebec and 60th Avenue, is the Halftime Sports Bar, honest and lived-in, where rock and karaoke rule.
If you’re coming from downtown Denver, it might be an idea to hook up with the Centennial 38 Rapids supporters group, who run match-day buses from sports pubs such as Prem-focused British Bulldog, where Stout Street meets Broadway, the similar Three Lions at 2239 E. Colfax and Colorado-themed Stoney’s Bar & Grill, a sports and live-music landmark with 31 HD TVs and two 120-inch projector screens.
Note that the popular Celtic Tavern closed in September 2016.
C38 also organizes communal viewing of Rapids away games at the Southside Bar at 3014 E. Colfax, a few blocks along from the Three Lions.
1962 Denver Kickers Sports Club founded, based at the German Haus – now runs youth, women’s and veteran’s teams by the Lutheran Church in Golden, east of Denver.
1974 Denver Dynamos becomes Colorado’s first major professional soccer franchise. Only highlight of two forgettable NASL seasons at Mile High Stadium was the skills of Ace Ntsoelengoe, considered the greatest player South Africa has ever produced.
1975 Dynamos ups sticks and moves to Minneapolis, Ntsoelengoe and all, as briefly successful Minnesota Kicks.
1978 NASL Soccer returns to Mile High with the Caribous of Colorado. One half of its co-ownership is music producer Jim Guercio, whose Caribou Ranch studio was where Elton John and Joe Walsh recorded. As if to accentuate the theme and add to the absurdity, Caribous plays in white shirts with a tan-coloured leather fringe, like a cowboy jacket, across each player’s midriff. This in front of an average 7,000 crowd at Mile High Stadium. Within months, Guercio and partner sell club to Atlanta halfway through the summer season. Atlanta Chiefs folds in 1981.
1981 Ex-Northern Ireland international Dave Clements, first coach at Caribous, takes charge of short-lived Denver Avalanche, in the Major Indoor Soccer League. Based at McNichols Sports Arena, Avalanche lasts two winters. Most notable player is Icelandic international Albert Gudmondsson.
1991 Clements also coaches the Denver Pioneers soccer team at the University of Denver, later to compete in four NCAA tournaments.
1992 Colorado Rovers formed. Based at Highlands Ranch, it plays in the Colorado Amateur Soccer League but enters the PlayIn Round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup in 2013.
1996 Colorado Rapids, and MLS, founded.
2006 Denver FC formed and enters the now defunct Comets Soccer League, later switching to indoor Premier Arena Soccer League.
2016 Teams in Rocky Mountain Division of PASL include Colorado Blizzard, Real Colorado Edge and Colorado Rush Indoor.