Colorado will host a major Thanksgiving football match with big stakes and a national television audience.
No, not the Broncos.
Claiming the MLS Western Conference regular-season title, the Colorado Rapids are set to host the Portland Timbers FC in the second round of the MLS Cup playoffs after a first-round bye. The league’s first Thanksgiving Day match is the biggest in the club’s 26-year history and will air on Fox at 2:30 p.m.
“We’re incredibly excited about the fact that we’re going to be joining this on national TV,” said Rapids general manager Pedrig Smith. “One of the exciting things for us is having the first (MLS) game on Thanksgiving and being able to do this in front of a packed house at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park with our supporters.
“It gives us an incredible advantage on the field and then, for some people around the country, they will get an opportunity to see how good this team is and how they have evolved and developed into a team that is number one. deserves a place in the West.”
It all seemed impossible a few years ago and seemed impossible a few weeks ago.
Ending the season with wins in three of their final four games, the Rapids handled business through decision day and with little help from Seattle (tie) and Kansas City (loss).
A 5–2 Colorado win over Los Angeles Football Club in the finale of the regular season saw LAFC crash out of the playoffs. Two years earlier, LAFC used the last day’s play to compete with the Rapids post-season.
It all came full circle in 2021, keeping pace with the Rapids fan base.
“The Judgment Day game was very special; I cried when he grabbed the spot,” said lifelong Rapids fan John Boraz. “This is the first time in club history that we legitimately have a club of this caliber.”
Boraz lists that match as one of the five biggest ever played by Rapids, with the upcoming Turkey Day match already in his ranking.
In the midst of a three-year playoff drought, Smith and Wayne Brant published an op-ed in The Denver Post in August of 2017, detailing their mission for the club and how they wanted to build it.
As the team continued to fail on the field and firefighters turned away from it, the fanbase poked fun at the piece.
“When Padraig and Wayne put the ‘Rapid’s Way’ op-ed to The Post, there was a lot of fun, a lot of blindfolds,” Boraz said. “It was ridiculed for a long time beyond that, but he hated it. He pulled it off in a way that I, as a fan, couldn’t even expect.”
The club’s first finish above the Western Conference standings was scripted by a roster of sensible international additions, strong intraleague moves and young domestic talent.
“Our fans can expect to see what we talked about (in the op-ed) a few years back – an exciting, attacking, entertaining team that plays with urgency, intensity and courage,” Smith said. “We have built it on the backs of young, home players who have real experience and class coming from outside as well.
“It’s an exciting group, an attacker and one that ultimately likes to put on a show.”
Now this show will be visible across the country.
Major League Soccer internally promised to slot whatever team finished in the West. When the Rapids got injured there, sources say that MLS and its TV partners tried to involve Seattle in the match. Behind the scenes, Rapids gears up for the holiday game.
It was a controversial announcement even for Rapids fans. Many had to amend plans or could not attend. But many people’s initial panic has cooled. The club’s supporter class, Centennial 38, has made the most of the situation. They’ll host a parking lot tailgate with the usual loot of pizza and hot dogs, but will also include 23 turkeys and pies, 20 hams, and 1,200 Hawaiian rolls.
Despite the game being a holiday, it may be the most accessible rapids game in years. Due to the ongoing Altitude-Comcast dispute, Rapids games have been unavailable to a large number of Colorado cable subscribers since the latter part of the 2019 season.
In 2021, the club’s lone game to be broadcast nationally in English was also hitched, meaning it would be the first time the Rapids would be televised to most viewers in the market since last season’s playoffs.
“It’s going to be a wonderful event,” Smith said. “It’s going to be the best football experience in this state because I don’t – certainly in my time here. We’re hoping it will be something special.”