Photos by John Babiak/Written by Brian Jennings
Heading into Colorado’s huge rivalry match with next-door neighbors Real Salt Lake at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park on Saturday (7:00 p.m. kickoff, MT), both sides sit atop the Western Conference in a “whouda-thunk-it” matchup early in 2016. Level-headed midfield general Sam Cronin said none of the early-season success will mean anything if it can’t be sustained, which is what he’s looking for this weekend.
“Right now the biggest priority is getting Salt Lake and getting three points. We’ve been good at home, and that needs to be a staple of us moving forward. We’re off to a good start, but we’ve accomplished nothing,” Cronin explained to Current of Colorado.
“We could lay an egg the rest of the year and be in the same spot we were last year. I still don’t think we have the respect that maybe we deserve around the league, and it’s probably fair because we haven’t proved it yet. We need to continue to get wins at home and be a real tough team on the road. So that’s our focus.”
Sam likes the approach from all his teammates and feels they all are buying into making something special in Colorado this season.
“We have a lot of new players,” Cronin said. “We feel like we’re a new group this season, so it’s just the nature of sport. You have to prove it each and every day, each game. We’re not looking for approval from media or other teams. We just want to win. The approval from other people outside of the locker room is pretty far down the totem pole. Everyone has enough self-respect that we all want to take pride in what we do individually and as a team. We want to be proud of the work we do, the way we prepare, and obviously the way we play on the weekend is the most important.”
So how does a team in unfamiliar territory in the Western Conference remain focused week-to-week and not get caught up in hype or place in the standings? “The season is long, games come quick. The whole regular season is about finding a rhythm and picking up points,” Cronin said. “There’s nothing really to celebrate until the US Open Cup or the playoffs come around, so we’re just trying to be a good team and put ourselves in a good position.”
Most of that is accomplished throughout the week in training, and according to Cronin, part of that is not dwelling on the past weekend’s results (good or bad) and getting a fresh start every Monday or Tuesday.
“Monday, Tuesday are usually reflective on our performance the previous game — what we did well, what we didn’t do well. Coaches from there will lay out the training week and the things they want to highlight going into the following game. Thursday, Friday is complete preparation for the game Saturday. We’ll look at their film, lay out a tactical plan and practice that so by the time Saturday comes everybody has a clear understanding of what we want to do and the type of game we want to play,” Cronin explained.
Rapids fans hope the game on Saturday will be high-energy from the opening whistles (first AND second half). Pressing teams at home has been key to Colorado’s success so far in Commerce City, and Saturday will be no different if they are to remain in the hunt for the Rocky Mountain Cup after a sour 1–0 loss at Rio Tinto Stadium last month.