Regardless of how much we disapprove the 2010 MLS Cup outcome, the fact of the matter is that the Colorado Rapids won the Cup and are arguably the defending league champions going into their 2011 campaign.
While no club has won a consecutive MLS Cup title since the Houston Dynamo in 2007, there's evidently a myriad of things that the Rapids will need to live up to in 2011. Recent defending MLS Cup champions have had success in qualifying for the quarterfinals in the CONCACAF Champions League and either winning or falling short of winning the MLS Supporters' Shield, an award for the best regular season record.
The question that roams is, can Colorado be capable of doing that much? Do they have the potential to make a namesake for themselves in Champions League play and dominate the league simultaneously?
We can look back on Real Salt Lake's impressive 2010 campaign and say that it's very possible to even likely. However, the Rapids' cross-mountain rivals had much more attacking depth than they themselves have had.
Their depth will inevitably be thrown into question starting with offseason loans and maybe even transfers. One of their most dangerous attacking weapons, Mr. Omar Cummings, may be on is way to donning an Aston Villa jersey for either a few months, but possibly for good, stowing his maroon kit in the closet.
CONCACAF Champions League
Another concern has to be how critical the Rapids see the CONCACAF Champions League. I'm not saying they will take it seriously, but they are no Seattle Sounders FC when it comes to Champions League-talk. The hope is that they see this tournament as the reward for MLS Cup triumph and not a burden for winning a Cup title.
Obviously, having six additional matches in 2011 will be taxing on the players and will somewhat impact their domestic campaign, but being able to juggle the two is a necessity. One that has been accomplished by past Cup champions.
Take Columbus in 2009 and RSL in 2010. The Crew went on to capture their second consecutive Supporters' Shield, and RSL was literally within a point's reach of the Shield. Even when Houston took the MLS Cup more seriously than the Shield in 2008, they were still able to advance from their Champions League group.
Sounds like a lot for the Rapids to live up to.
While Colorado may be the defending MLS Cup champions, it's a bit obvious they are not the best club presently in the league. However, in spite of this, they have the star power to be competitive and fairly dominate in the Champions League.
As I previously said, the only way to prove this true is by one thing—interest.
The mentality for the Rapids needs to express that being the Champions League is not a burden but a privilege that only four American clubs have the opportunity to play in. Only 25 percent of the American MLS teams earn a birth in the tournament...a third fewer than the U.S. Open Cup and half as many as the MLS Cup Playoffs.
The most important thing in the Champions League is a chance to play in the FIFA Club World Cup. I'm sure if Colorado marketed this to the Denver area, that the club has a chance to play against the likes of Manchester United or Inter Milan for a shot at being the best soccer club on the planet...they'll garner some interest.
Plus if Coloradans believe it's awesome that the Rapids won the championship for the best club in the United States, imagine how they'll react to being the best club in North America.
Potential exists, but it's the significance to them that matters.
MLS Supporters' Shield
You ask any American soccer purist what determines the champion of Major League Soccer, and they'll immediately say it's the Supporters' Shield. Even though MLS and America likes to consider the Supporters' Shield the consolation prize, the incentives for winning the Shield are practically identical to those of winning the MLS Cup.
First and foremost, the Supporters' Shield winner books a Group Stage spot in the CONCACAF Champions League, just like the MLS Cup champion. I'm not sure if the money reward is similar, but I believe the Shield winners earn more allocation bonuses for the club than the Cup winners whom win more allocation bonuses for the players. I suppose you could say the true winner then in terms of rewards contract one another (although winning the Cup gives you the star above you crest).
It's not really, and probably will not, really be a priority for Colorado once 2011 kicks off. The way Colorado will find themselves in this race is if they come out playing with much attacking and not "get a goal" then "defend, defend, defend". It will then get them used to always winning and not expecting draws or defeats.