Major League Soccer

Robin Fraser: 'Without some of the big names, you don't get some of the big egos.'

Chris Smith
The Rapids are among the best sides in MLS right now, despite having the fifth-lowest wage expendature.
The Rapids are among the best sides in MLS right now, despite having the fifth-lowest wage expendature. / Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Exclusive - In a league dominated by huge salaries for the most famous and lauded players, such as Carlos Vela and Gonzalo Higuain, Colorado take a very different approach.

Their latest 1-1 draw against Vancouver Whitecaps was hardly the best result, but it did extend their current unbeaten run to 10 games. The Rapids are now the only side not to lose in the last 10 MLS games, leaving them third in the Western Conference and just two points behind leaders Sporting Kansas City.

So, how does one of the lowest-spending sides in MLS with just one DP mount such a convincing challenge at the top of the standings? Colorado Rapids head coach Robin Fraser has a theory.

"I think the key is that the players are incredibly hard-working and willing to do what's asked them," Rapids head coach Robin Fraser told 90min in an exclusive interview. "Without some of the big names, you don't get some of the big egos. And by and large, it's been a pretty unselfish effort where guys are asked to do things that maybe they don't necessarily want to do but they do it because they look around and everyone else does it."

The Rapids have only conceded more than two goals in a single game three times throughout the entire 2021 season. It's that ability to hang in games no matter the opposition that Fraser believes has been a defining factor to their success.

"I think we've done a decent job of being in just about every game," Fraser added. "If we keep ourselves in games, then we have some attacking quality, too. We know that we don't have big names and big superstars, but we have players who can execute the roles that are being asked of them quite well. And as a result, we're obviously getting decent results. It's not like we've scored four goals [per game]. But we've certainly scored enough goals to be competitive and, as a group. we've defended well enough to not concede enough goals to also be competitive.

"At the end of the day, that's what you need. You'd like to win every game five, six-nothing but if you win every game one-nothing, you're still getting the same number of points."

Fraser emphasized "unselfishness" as the key to his side's strong form in 2021.

"I think, for us, one of the biggest keys is just the fact that they're an unselfish group, and they'll do what's asked of them. We have guys who are defending in areas of the field where they may not even want to or don't necessarily feel comfortable but they do it because they look around and everyone else does it.

Robin Fraser has been in charge of the Rapids since August 2019.
Robin Fraser has been in charge of the Rapids since August 2019. / C. Morgan Engel-USA TODAY Sports

Though the team is undoubtedly the star with Colorado, Fraser still needs generals to call upon to keep the rest of his squad in check. Someone to lead from the front and make sure standards don't slip.

For Fraser, that man is club captain Jack Price. With nine assists - behind only Carles Gil (12) and Djordje Mihailovic - and a team-high 125 passes into the final third this season, the Englishman is arguably the heartbeat of this team in a creative sense.

"I think Jack is a great captain because he leads by example," said Fraser. "He is incredibly vocal and extremely supportive of his teammates, but hard on them when he needs to be. And he is the person who has probably risen above the fray in that he can say whatever he needs to say to anyone else and they take it. Because, at the end of the day, he carries himself in such a way that you don't really question him.

"If I need to call Jack out I will, and he's man enough to take it. When other people see that Jack can take it, it's just another great example of him as a leader, because he has to not only be confident, and vocal, and complimentary, and hard on people. He has to have humility, too. And I think that that's a big part of Jack that separates him from other good players. He's got so much humility that he's not afraid to admit if he's made a mistake. I think he's someone who carries that sort of weight.

Despite their high placing, the Rapids are something of a statistical anomaly. Their 48.1% average share of possession is among the lowest in the league, but so are their number of tackles (16.1), pressures (154.7) and interceptions (13) per 90.

All signs point to a side that are happy to concede possession, pick their moments and hit the opposition in transition. Fraser agrees the Rapids are strong in this area.

"I feel like we are a team that can hurt teams in transition. We have good pace and we have guys who make good decisions on the run," he said.

But Fraser insists his side are much more than a pure counter-attacking outfit.

He added: "I think we can hurt teams at set attack as well and I think our positional play is interesting. When our positional play is good, and we make good decisions, then I think we can really hurt teams in possession as well. That's part of the good thing about us - at set attack we can hurt teams and we can be lethal on counter-attack. But we can still get better at both."

Indeed, Fraser believes the next step in the development of this team is to boost those possession numbers, but only doing so if they're using the ball with purpose.

"I look at our possession numbers and I think we should be higher," Fraser continued. "We've been plagued by a great deal of turnovers that we feel through concentration, we can get better at. If we do that, we'll complete more attacks and get more out of our possession.

"But there are times when our possession is excellent and we're able to move teams around and create openings and, out of that, get chances. So while it may appear as if we are thriving on transition, I think we are still in the process of becoming as efficient a possession team as possible.

"Again, possession is only useful if you're doing something with it and we're trying to be very purposeful. Oftentimes, our attacks are breaking down because of individual mistakes, in terms of keeping the ball. And the better we get at that, the better we'll get at our possession game and be able to have more set attacks and less transition moments. But it's nice to know that we can be dangerous in either, I think there's comfort and confidence gained from that."

Even in spite of their high placing, it's unsurprising that the Rapids get little attention outside of their local media thanks to a lack of star names, low spending and playing in a relatively small market.

That doesn't bother Fraser. As he put's it to 90min, Colorado are "content to fly under the radar" until they force the conversation.

However, what does bother Fraser is the fact that his players were completely snubbed for Bob Bradley's MLS All-Star squad in August. Fraser can take a lack of credit for himself on the chin, but clearly cares deeply about his players getting the accolades they deserve.

"The lack of attention doesn't bother me," Fraser said. "What did bother me was the All-Star game, because I do think that players have played well enough to deserve some sort of credit.

"To have that many players [from elsewhere] make an All-Star team when we have been in fourth place for weeks and not below fourth place in the Western Conference. I thought that was a slight to the players and that bothered me.

"The lack of attention, whatever. At the end of the day, if we do well enough, they'll have no choice but to have to talk about us. But that's still on us to play that well and to get the results that we need. If we don't, then the fact that they didn't talk about us, they're right. And if we do, then the fact that they didn't talk about us, maybe they're all wrong."

On possible reasons for the Rapids' All-Star omission, Fraser added: "We are a small market team. We don't have any big international superstars. We've got one DP and he was hurt. And there's nothing sexy about the small market team that doesn't have any DPs. I think that the league is excited about promoting its quote unquote superstars and that's an opportunity for them to do so and it is what it is."

Should the Rapids defy the odds and the chequebook by going all the way to MLS Cup glory, there might be a few more happy faces when the next All-Star selection comes around.