It’s been an eventful 12 months for soccer in Colorado and the stories that have shaped the state have ranged from the ugly underbelly of the game, to fun-to-watch upsets, MVPs and more.
Here’s the top 10 stories about the beautiful game in the Centennial State in the last 12 months according to Colorado Rapids and Colorado soccer beat reporter Brendan Ploen.
10) Jeff Plush, former Rapids director, played detrimental role in Yates report
Plush, the former managing director for the Colorado Rapids, let slide allegations of abuse and misconduct while he was commissioner of the National Women’s Soccer League, according to former Attorney General Sally Yates’ independent report released in the fall. In October, he resigned as head of USA Curling after facing immense pressure to do so. A total of 16 Coloradans played in the NWSL in 2022, eight of whom were on teams directly impacted. A second and final report from the NWSL and NWSL Players’ Association was released earlier this month.
9) Northfield becomes first DPS school to win CHSAA state girls soccer title
Reflecting to happier days, Northfield’s dramatic CHSAA Class 4A state title game win in a penalty shootout over Windsor was one for the ages. The Nighthawks won across the Front Range in spring, but the sweetest victory came in May at a field in their own backyard — Dick’s Sporting Goods Park.
8) Robin Fraser signs four-year contract extension through 2025
Robin Fraser helped return the Rapids to prominence in 2021 and as a result, earned an extension from Kroenke Sports and Entertainment’s front office. Tactically, Fraser is firm in his style of play and his players seem to enjoy competing for him.
His daughter, Nicki, a junior at Rock Canyon High School, also made the U.S. Women’s U-17 World Cup squad, which was held in India in October. The ending of the Rapids season meant that Robin was able to watch Nicki compete in-person in the biggest stage of her career yet.
7) Drew Moor retires, Kévin Cabral joins Burgundy Boys
The 2022 MLS season was notable for fans of the Burgundy Boys for a few reasons. First, longtime defender Drew Moor retired at the young age of 39. Gyasi Zardes joined Colorado for one season and chipped in nine goals but it wasn’t enough, as a slew of injuries and inconsistent results meant the Rapids missed the playoffs for the first time since 2019 — even with Diego Rubio tying the club’s single-season goal record. The team will look to get on track in 2023 with additions like Kévin Cabral and the return of Littleton’s Cole Bassett.
6) Hailstorm make Open Cup run, earn USL respect in Year 1
Northern Colorado Hailstorm FC head coach Éamon Zayed’s squad got soccer fans across the state pumped with their survive-and-advance debut in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. The Hailstorm pulled a Centennial State shocker over Colorado Springs Switchbacks and then went on to stun MLS side Real Salt Lake on their way to the Round of 32.
While “NoCo” narrowly missed the USL League One playoffs, it’s clear that Zayed is building something strong up in Windsor.
5) MLS announces new deal with Apple TV, Rapids leave Altitude Sports
While it’s a league-wide story, the local implications were certainly felt by fans, for better or worse. The Rapids ended an 18-year run on KSE-owned Altitude TV in October, as the 2023 campaign will begin a new era with Apple TV. With it came more than a tinge of sadness as Richard Fleming and Marcelo Balboa called likely their final games as a broadcast pair. While the majority of fans I spoke to were thrilled the team is out of the ongoing Altitude-Comcast dispute, the familiarity of the first broadcast of the season will change.
4) USWNT returns to Colorado, Sophia Smith bags brace at DSGP
That crowd was simply electric. Too bad no one (that we know of) put forth a formal bid to earn an NWSL expansion team in Denver. As the USWNT proved once again women’s soccer is a hit and can thrive in the right market. Aside from the four Coloradans (and CU alum Taylor Kornieck) earning hearty applause from long-time supporters, the game marked progress off the field too as it was the first game after all major stakeholders approved an historic CBA, which guaranteed equal pay for both men’s and women’s national teams.
3) Denver misses out on hosting the 2026 FIFA World Cup
There is a strong argument that this is the No. 1 story of the year, but, much like the city’s bid, this reporter never seriously considered it a possibility. The irony of a passionate crowd supporting the Coloradans on the USWNT nine days following the failed bid wasn’t lost on a lot of fans. Denver is a strong soccer city.
But World Cup-worthy? Not this time.
Instead, Denver put forth a privately-funded, $45 million bid (a non-starter for FIFA) that hardly had a proper marketing campaign, let alone sustained it throughout the 1,728 days it was in contention. Needless to say, being humiliated again by Kansas City, which got the bid, was another sting and KC chalked up an ever-growing tally mark if you include the Broncos’ woes. If the U.S. puts forth a Women’s World Cup bid in the near future, let’s hope the city can learn from its past flops.
2) Smith becomes the youngest-ever NWSL MVP
What can say about Smith, the 22-year-old Windsor native, that hasn’t already been said? She’s become “The Brace Queen” — scoring two goals in a game multiple times this year — for a reason. Smith won the MVP in October and finished the 2022 season with 15 goals, including the game-winner in the NWSL Championship game to give the Portland Thorns their third title, the most in league history.
Already a superstar, she could have an even more memorable 2023 for the USWNT at the FIFA Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.
1) Ethan Horvath becomes the first Coloradan to make a USMNT World Cup squad
While he hasn’t lived stateside in over a decade, 27-year-old Highlands Ranch native Ethan Horvath made history in November when he made the USMNT World Cup squad, achieving a lifelong goal. It’s the top story because, well, his story. He moved to Norway at 16 and his parents joined to support him. They wound up being janitors while Horvath was making his way into the first team. UEFA Champions League and iconic national team moments followed — but sacrificing everything to make a once-distant dream of making a U.S. World Cup roster? That’s compelling, and why I think it’s the top story for 2022.
Anything you’d change? Give me a shout on twitter @BrendanPloen or my e-mail. Happy New Year and here’s to great Centennial State soccer moments in the year ahead.
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