Jack Price Colorado free kick

When Jack Price signed with the Colorado Rapids in January 2018, he freely admits it was in search of playing time.

The well at now-Premier League side Wolverhampton Wanderers had run dry, so he moved halfway around the world to give Major League Soccer a shot. He’d caught a few games on late-night broadcasts in England, though wasn’t an expert by any means.

“To be honest, I didn't know anything about Colorado,” Price told MLSsoccer.com. “Me and my girlfriend came out, probably the back end of December, start of January for four days just to see the place and see the city. We loved it as soon as we saw it.”

That decision has certainly paid off, as the 28-year-old midfielder captained the Rapids to the Western Conference’s No. 1 seed in the Audi 2021 MLS Cup Playoffs. That booked them a Thursday afternoon Western Conference Semifinal against the No. 4-seeded Portland Timbers, the league’s first-ever Thanksgiving Day match (4:30 pm ET | FOX, FOX Deportes).

Colorado earned this marquee slot after winning three of their last four regular-season games, including a 5-2 thumping of LAFC on Decision Day. Meanwhile, longtime West frontrunners – Seattle and Kansas City – slipped in the closing weeks, allowing head coach Robin Fraser’s team to finish with 61 points and earn a 2022 Concacaf Champions League spot.

And how Price tells it, Fraser is a massive reason behind Colorado’s success in 2021.

“We're more a team than we were my first two years here,” Price said. “You can see the fight we have, we dig in for each other and we have that never-say-quit attitude. Since Robin's came in, he's been fantastic with that side of it. Just respect each other as people. You don't need to get on off the field, but you're out there doing a job and it's a team sport. ... The way we fight for each other and fight for Robin, he's that type of guy, someone we trust.”

Fraser originally took over in late August 2019, giving him two full seasons at the helm. And the longtime MLS assistant, who previously led now-defunct side Chivas USA, hasn’t exactly entered a pool of riches.

The Rapids own the league's smallest payroll, per MLS Players Association salary release figures, and received just 532 minutes across 11 matches (1g/1a) from their sole Designated Player, attacking midfielder Younes Namli, after he underwent ankle surgery in June. As others around MLS have invested heavily in DPs and stars, the Rapids have milked every ounce of talent – collective and individual – from a roster that flies under the radar.

Full credit goes to Fraser, a Sigi Schmid Coach of the Year finalist, on this front. And plenty heads toward executive VP and general manager Padraig Smith as well, finding pieces already within MLS and from abroad that, when summed together, perform at levels higher than their parts might suggest.

Jack Price Robin Fraser
Jack Price and Rapids head coach Robin Fraser share an embrace.

These dynamics aren’t lost on Price, either.

“It's easy to talk about the bigger players and the bigger teams in this league, I get it and that's just the way it is,” Price said. “We're truly not fussed about it. We just need to focus on what we know works because clearly it got us top of the West. Now, we have to go on and lift MLS Cup.”

This perch comes in contrast to Price’s first two years in Colorado, a period marked by futility under then-head coach Anthony Hudson. But the tide started to turn under interim boss Conor Casey, then Fraser joined and the ascension truly began.

Reflecting on those divergent periods, Price deadpanned that it was a “​​really tough time.” A scar or two still exits from it around Dick’s Sporting Goods Park.

“At the time, to be honest, it wasn't the greatest place to come and play your football,” Rapids said. “It was down and depressed, but that's football sometimes. You have moments in your career where it's tougher, but the good times are coming around the corner and thankfully they have the last two years now. The mood really changed around the place.”

Now, Price and his teammates are dreaming of bringing a second MLS Cup to Colorado after the club won in 2010 under now-Nashville SC head coach Gary Smith. They’re only two single-elimination games away from reaching that Dec. 11 stage, also getting an 18-day break between contests from their Round One bye.

There’s even the possibility that Colorado land MLS Cup hosting priority, should Supporters’ Shield winners New England lose in the Eastern Conference portion of the bracket. That resonates with Price, injecting added motivation for when Portland come to town.

“I didn't realize it before coming into this league how playing at home is a really big advantage,” Price said. “For us it's using the altitude and all this, getting the fans behind us. There's not many teams that really want to come and play us at home.

“It's why that last game of the season, finishing top, was huge for us. Not just in terms of Champions League and stuff like that but to have those first two games potentially at home before the MLS Cup final it's huge. We fancy beating anyone at home. We can use that to our advantage to potentially go on and win the Cup."

The first checkmark arrives on Thanksgiving when Colorado are thrust into the national spotlight. Price, a set-piece specialist who tied for the fourth-most assists this season (12), believes they’ll seize the moment.

“We have to showcase what we can do as a team,” Price said. “People are watching and seeing soccer in this country, thinking that was a good game, that was enjoyable. It helps grow the sport here and in the Denver area, shows what we're all about.”