Anyone following the Rapids knows that the matches leading up to last Saturday’s meet up with Portland had not gone well. After expecting to come back from the (way too long) break rested and ready to take on Vancouver, and despite a solid effort in the first half, the Rapids ultimately fell 0-1 to a 10-man Whitecaps squad after a goal in the 80th from LeToux on the 16th.
In a similar heartbreak, the Rapids fell 2-1 to San Jose at home at Dicks Sporting Goods Park just four days later. Again, the Rapids had a strong start: good possession, good chances (which newly fit Brian Mullan was able to capitalize on with an 18th minute header into the net), but so did San Jose. Rapids keeper Matt Pickens was put to work early in the match, but the Rapids maintained their lead into the second half, only to give it away late in the game. An 83rd minute goal was ruled a Hunter Freeman own goal, and in the 91st minute, Matt Pickens came out of goal and maybe-touched-maybe-did-not-touch Gordan’s foot, and Vancouver were awarded the PK, which Wondolowski put away in the 92nd.
How do you lose two consecutive games in the last 10+ minutes of the match!? I’ll tell you how: you don’t play a full 90. A solid first half is worthless if you don’t have another solid 45 to back it up.
All of this is important because it explains why I found myself less than optimistic about last Saturday’s clash with the Timbers at DSGP, yet found myself pleasantly surprised when, desperately needing three points just to cling to the middle of the table, a markedly different team took to the pitch: energized, determined, and ready to go the full 90. Timbers looked sharp in their throwback kits; Rapids looked sharp in their throwback formation: lined up in the tried-and-true MLS favorite 4-4-2 with veteran attack duo Conor Casey and newly-fit Omar Cummings up top.
Colorado looked hungry out of the gate, and in the 18th minute, Jaime Castrillon was able to capitalize on a top notch Hunter Freeman assist to bring the Rapids up 1-0. Just four minutes later, a Brian Mullan assist earned Conor Casey his first goal of the season, and the Rapids just kept pushing, trying to create more chances against an already lagging Portland side.
Going into the second half, energy on the pitch and in the stands was high, and it stayed that way. I started getting nervous around the 80 minute mark, because that’s when things have started to fall apart recently, but Portland was dragging, and the ‘Pids were still pushing. In the final minute of regulation, just to sweeten the deal, fresh subs (from the 74th minute) Tony Cascio and Jamie Smith teamed up to net one more for a 3-0 finish. What a welcome back for Jamie Smith, playing his first, first-team match since tearing his ACL last year!
The three points were welcome, keeping the Rapids right in the center of the Western Conference table, and the three goals were heartening, but perhaps most importantly, coach Oscar Pareja fielded a team that clicked, that worked well together, and that played for the full 90. Substitutions didn’t seem to impact the flow of play or chemistry on the pitch, and something about the match just felt different, better. Taking to social media after the game, supporters were talking about feeling like the team had really turned a corner tonight and about increasing (but still cautious) optimism, and I have to say I agree.
Fortunately (for speculation, maybe not for the players), there’s a quick turnaround and we’ll get to see if the Rapids just had a good game or if they’re on the way to having a string of good games. The Rapids will be looking for redemption when they meet up with Vancouver again tomorrow, July 4th, just three weeks after suffering a heartbreaking loss against the ‘Caps. I have to say, I feel good going into this match. The team is getting healthier: only Anthony Wallace (Achilles tear) and Pablo Mastroeni (concussion complications) remain unfit, meaning that, if nothing else, the Rapids have a full squad of available first team players to choose from; this has not been the case until very recently. Saturday’s match against Portland proved that the Rapids DO have a full 90 in them, and that things are finally starting to click as the roster becomes more consistent.
The Rapids will also likely have the support of a sold out stadium, and they have done notoriously well in July 4th home matches (if you’re into those sort of stats, they’re out there). I hear tickets are still available for the match, and if you’ve never been out to the Rapids 4th Fest (or even if you have), you really should check it out, there’s a lot of great stuff going on:
The (free!) No Fan Alone Tailgate will feature a St. Baldrick’s Day event, raising money for kids with cancer, in addition to the usual food, beer, and camaraderie. There are also, as of this writing, still some terrace tickets available.
A limited edition red-white-and-blue 4th Fest Rapids scarf will be available at a discounted price, and with everyone being extra cautious, a good fireworks display might be hard to come by, so it’s worth noting that the fireworks at DSGP are still on!
If you’re scrambling for last minute 4th of July ideas, I can’t encourage you enough to head down to DSGP and support your Colorado Rapids; it’s always a great time. Glory, glory Colorado!
(image courtesy of Getty Images)