The Road to the Western Conference Final: Colorado Rapids 2

Colorado Rapids 2

Colorado Rapids 2 enjoyed an incredible regular season, and steps into the club's first Western Conference final with confidence. In the previous round, Darren Yapi made the difference in the 84th minute as Rapids 2 overwhelmed Earthquakes II, the top road team in the league.

Rapids 2 finished the regular season head and shoulders above the rest. Only Crown Legacy FC in the Eastern Conference equaled their 66 points. However, Crown Legacy found its playoff run cut short after a loss to Columbus Crew. Erik Bushey's side continues, even with a target on its back as the No. 1 seed in the conference.

Rapids 2 put together a memorable, historic regular season. However, the team's next mission is to further confirm its dominance by delivering an MLS NEXT Pro Cup title but standing in their way in the Western Conference final is the top defensive side in of all of MLS NEXT Pro Austin FC II.

Outstanding attacking contributions from Remi Cabral and Yosuke Hanya allowed Rapids 2 to lead MLS NEXT Pro in goals scored in 2023, with Cabral tying the league lead with 19 goals and Hanya scoring 13.

Hanya and Oliver Larraz make up a creative midfield, with Larraz scoring nine goals and notching eight assists in 2023. Larraz leads the league with 54 key passes. Marlon Vargas provides another strong link between midfield and attack, with five goals and 10 assists in 2023.

Rapids 2 made MLS NEXT Pro history by setting a league record with a 12-game unbeaten streak, dating from September 18, 2022. Rapids 2 lost only four matches and went 5-1 in shootouts.

Defensively, Rapids 2 goalkeeper Adam Beaudry has had a breakout season with 1,440 minutes in 16 starts. Defender Blake Malone has scored four goals, added two assists and maintained a 91.6% pass completion rate.

Though Rapids 2 had some trouble putting away an Earthquakes II team that spent all but two minutes of Sunday's Western Conference Semifinal playing with 10 men, the Rapids 2 back line stood strong, preventing Quakes II from taking more than one shot on goal.

The strong defensive performance, plus an energizing late winner from Yapi, surely bodes well for Rapids 2's chances going forward in the playoffs.

Rapids 2 stays at DICK's Sporting Goods Park to face No. 4-seed Austin FC II in the Western Conference final at 9:30 p.m. ET on Sunday.

Sunday's clash will be an interesting chess match, pitting one of the top attacking teams in MLS NEXT Pro in Rapids 2 against Austin FC II's league-leading defense, featuring goalkeeper Damian Las, who has 14 clean sheets on the year.