Backpass: Every team has a Joan
Win, lose or tie, this team has some great supporters.
If you’ve been out to a Colorado Rapids practice on a fine spring day, or you’ve been to a few Rapids games, you have likely encountered Rapids superfan Joan Dobrzynski. Every Rapids supporter’s first meeting with Joan is likely the same. There she is, sitting on the berm atop Field 20, greeting the players with a big smile as they take their first lazy laps around the field.
“Hi Axel!” “Hi Michael!” “Hi Drew!”
< Puff, puff, puff > The boys reply, “Hi Joan!”1
Or perhaps you have first seen her at DVNR Pub (once called Three Lions). Or in 1876 at the end of a match, congratulating the recipient of Centennial 38’s player of the match oar. There she is, smiling. A quiet woman with long greying hair and a stocky build. Always smiling.
Joan Dobrzynski is a constant at Rapids training, and has been for over a decade. Ever since 2011, she’s been coming out to training to watch the boys - I think I remember her calling them ‘my boys’ - as many days as she can make it. Media are welcome at specific times during the week to view training. But after the smattering of reporters and camerapersons pack it in, Joan is there, sitting on the berm in a lawn chair, smiling.
She doesn’t really like attention. Back in 2017 I nudged her about maybe doing an interview with her and a Backpass article. She chuckled politely and said something like ‘I don’t know why you’d want to write a whole article on me!’ Joan simply enjoyed being there - the quiet joys of waving hello to the players. The rhythm of practice. She and her practice buddy Mark Johnson have become an essential first stop for reporters at training. They could tell you who was present and who was missing; who was working out on the sidelines in non-contact drills. Who came early for extra running and who stayed late taking shots or practicing penalties. Joan was never negative about the team, even when the season was going poorly. She rather seemed disappointed - things hadn’t turned out so well. Blame wasn’t her thing. ‘Better luck next season’ was her attitude.
One time, Joan messaged me for a ride to Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. We were both headed to the USMNT match against Trinidad and Tobago in 2017 and so I gave her a lift. We both had the giddy excitement of two fans on our way to see something special - that pure joy you have in going to see a team you love. We had a great chat in the car, but really, as you all know, it’s just a joy to love soccer, and to be with someone that derives as much joy and excitement from soccer as you do. Infectious soccer joy is a vibe - one of the purest vibes of all - and Joan has it.
Some of you may have learned that Joan’s not feeling well. She’s in the hospital. I’m praying for her recovery, and hoping with every fiber of my being she can get back to her normal place in the universe; on the berm overlooking Field 20, just next to the second newly planted tree from your left.
The Colorado Rapids desperately want her back there too. To tide her over during her stay in the hospital, they’ve delivered an Apple iPad that has Apple+ MLS Season Pass, so she can watch all the games. On the ipad, they also recorded a bunch of get-well-soon messages from all the players, which is an incredibly lovely gesture. They also dedicated the pre-match photo to her, as you can see in the photo at the top of the article, which was taken before the Minnesota match.
Many people wax and wane in their support for the Rapids. They’re fervent fans for a while but then they drift off to other things. Some folks grow up and move away from Denver. Others just get preoccupied with other things. The most diehard are in it for life. They will live and breathe this club until the end. None of us lives for ever. But our football club will hopefully live on after our time, and the generations of supporters that pack the stand each week will remember those that came before them long after we are gone.
The team song, ‘Mountain Roads’, is a fun adaptation of the John Denver standard. It can be meant to take the team into the locker room in times good and bad. But it also seems a fitting song to send each of us on into the realm beyond this one.
Mountain roads, take me home
to the place, I belong
Colorado, see the Rapids
take me home, mountain roads
Every team has a Joan, or two, or ten. Women and men, young and old, who love the team beyond the score sheet and the league table. Yes, they want to win - want to feel the rattle and din of a stand packed to the gills as the team hoists a cup. But short of that, every spring and summer, these diehard fans will be there at practice and in the stands, doing what fans do. Cheering for their boys.
Teams are blessed to have fans like Joan. We Rapids fans though - we love our Joan a whole lot.
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Oy Gevalt Saturday
An old Jewish joke goes like this. Four old Jews are sitting at a table. The first says ‘Oy.’ The second replies ‘Oy gevalt.’ The third says ‘Oy vey iz mir.’ The fourth replies ‘Listen, if you three don’t stop talking politics, I’m leaving.’
The match Saturday can be classified as the same, but the punchline should be ‘Listen, if you don’t stop talking about the Rapids, I’m leaving.’ Other than
a pretty solid performance by Anthony Markanich,
a phenomenal goal by Cole Bassett,
and another good outing from Connor Ronan,
this was another bad match for the Rapids. The team generated just 0.9 xG on the day, with only 3 shots on target. Danny Wilson’s hand ball was a regrettable error from a team whose margins are too thin to be committing regrettable errors. Darren Yapi was, once again, stymied in his attempt to score his first MLS goal.2 Sam Nicholson and Kévin Cabral once again looked ineffective.
And the killer, of course, was Jack Price’s torn achilles in the 69th minute which ended his season.
Price’s perfect dead ball service in 2020 and 2021 were the keys to power this offense to over-produce expectation on set pieces. Without him in 2022, the team made do with Bryan Acosta at the corners. But he wasn’t particularly effective, producing just 2 assists on 3.7 xAG (Expected Assisted Goals). A healthy Jack Price in 2021 contributed 12 assists on 5.8 xAG, far exceeding what an average player might do. In other words, Jack Price can put a ball in a spot with the precision of a Jedi hitting a thermal exhaust port without aid of a navi-computer. In comparison, Bryan Acosta might be considered accurate if we’re comparing him to a detachment of stormtroopers.
Without Price, the central midfield depth chart is miserable. You’ve got Cole Bassett, who maybe is about to turn a corner? You’ve got Connor Ronan, who looks like a promising addition. And then you’ve got three guys - Max Alves, Ralph Priso, and Bryan Acosta - that I gave respective grades of C, NG, and D last season. Oliver Larraz is coming back from injury, and probably isn’t a possible savior no matter what. That’s it - all the options for our three midfielders.3
Considering we were already worried about the fullbacks, because Alex Gersbach hasn’t looked comfortable (and he’s hurt) and Keegan Rosenberry is already hurt, and Steven Beitashour is hurt, and our attacking wingers of Michael Barrios, Sam Nicholson, and Jonathan Lewis were all here last year when the team was pretty meh, and Kévin Cabral hasn’t even earned a starting spot in the middle of all this mess, folks are already writing off the 2023 as hopeless.
The fact that a fan has to come out *against the grain* to say “I’m not giving up” IN MARCH is damn near insane.4 This team has had some bad years in my time following, but only 2019 seems like competition for bleakness. That year the team went the first 11 games of the year without a win, and the manager publicly trashed his players, and he was axed after game 9.5
OK, so here’s the really bad news. The Rapids could equal that futility. With only 1 point in four matches, and with three of the next four games on the road (Austin, Sporting KC, Charlotte), and the other match against the current holders of MLS Cup and the Supporters Shield, LAFC, it’s easy to imagine this team on just 1 or 2 points after 8 matches.6 Things are pretty bad.
It’s possible the Rapids make a late transfer move. It’s possible that Diego Rubio’s return sparks a resurgence - he did have 16 goals in 2022. But right now, things look bleak in Commerce City, and there’s no way to sugarcoat it.
In his playing days, Drew Moor would stop and talk with Joan most days by the chain link fence. His attention to fans, along with Micheal Azira’s, is why I will forever be a fan of theirs.
I’m not stupidly putting him on my fantasy team again. Which, with my luck, means he’ll probably score.
I mean, we could go 4-3-3 with Diego Rubio as attacking mid, Cole Bassett as a number eight, and Connor Ronan as the deep-lying six, and that’s a GREAT midfield. But then you have to put the goalless Darren Yapi at striker; or pair him with an aging Michael Barrios, or the dribble and shoot antics of Jonathan Lewis, or the to-this-point irrelevant Kévin Cabral. Yuck to all of that. There’s no replacing Jack Price with someone that belongs on the bench and getting equal results. He’s a huge loss.
I’m not giving up on the Rapids either. But for the March 27 match against Austin FC, I have three #Verde players in my fantasy starting lineup. And I generally don’t do that.
This man, I will remind you, is in charge of the US Men’s National Team right now. Sigh. ‘Failing up’ makes me crazy.
The MLS record for horrendousness is DC United in 2013, who had just 16 points in 34 games. I have written this in reference to the Rapids far too many times in my writing career.