COMMERCE CITY, CO - APRIL 03: Caleb Folan #21 of the Colorado Rapids is lifted up by Anthony Wallace #6 as Pablo Mastroeni #25 watches as they celebrate Folan's goal in the 81st minute against D.C. United at Dick's Sporting Goods Park on April 3, 2011 in Commerce City, Colorado. The Rapids defeated D.C. United 4-1. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
I think that anybody who used the old "They just can't play beautiful football" argument on the Rapids last year should watch a replay of today's game, because to say that was superb would be an understatement. The offense was spread out evenly all over the pitch during the 4-1 routing at home of DC United, not only cleansing the demons of last years 1-0 embarassment with the B team out but also showing a still skeptical world that yes, Colorado is indeed the team they've been playing as since the season's start.
On a snow-covered surface at Dick's Sporting Goods Park it took the Rapids a bit of time to figure this new-look DC team out. For the first full 20 minutes of the game in fact, they looked like they were trying way too hard to be fancy against a team that was clearly lacking in talent with their best goalscorer on the bench and almost every single one of their starting defenders out on injury or red card suspension. The possession battle was won early on by DC in an almost embarassing fashion. Finally in the 36th minute Caleb Folan - starting in place of Omar Cummings perhaps to give Omar some rest after two international games with Jamaica last weekend - broke through the defense, skinned Rodrigo Brasesco and let loose a wonderful curling shot from just inside the box that beat Pat Onstead and gave the Rapids the goal advantage they sorely needed.
From that point on, the Rapids were settled and were ready to play their possession and high pressing game that they execute so very well. Halftime came and went with very little fanfare as the Rapids stuck to their defensive guns and played great possession football to keep DC United not just off the board but away from Matt Pickens until the whistle blew. As the second half began, the Rapids continued to play well but were unable to break through the DC defense. Conor Casey's injured hamstring began to act up again and he was quickly pulled for Cummings. Sanna Nyassi was also put in for Brian Mullan to get some speed into the offensive equation.
Andy Najar was brought into the game to try and boost the offense a bit, and boost it did when Santino Quaranta finally got the DC United faithful perked up with a well taken shot that broke past Pickens and tied the game up. If that had happened last year - especially early in the season last year - the Rapids would probably have started to turtle, move to a 4-5-1 and hope to god that the tie would stay so they wouldn't drop a vital point. This year's squad is made of much tougher stuff, and decided to not just sit back and pray, but to attack right back. Only minutes after the Quaranta goal, Jamie Smith broke into the box unmarked and took a well placed header right into the corner of the net to make it 2-1. In the 81st minute Folan struck again, getting two goals in only his second appearance for the Rapids. His brace wouldn't wind up mattering as DC's offense began to stutter, but it was still a fine start to the MLS Career of the Irish international.
Omar Cummings got into the action himself in stoppage time, running into the box with an unmarked Pablo Mastroeni, whose attempted cross bounced up into the air right onto Omar's head. Pat Onstead looked his age all game, with very few saves that a rouge bag of sand couldn't have made on his resume. Time to pack the bags and retire, Pat? The game ended soon after with a 4-1 score ringing on the scoreboard for the relieved and happy Rapids crowd.
Courtesy of Real Salt Lake not playing this weekend, Colorado is now - if only for a weekend - at the top of the table in MLS. It feels strange to be able to say it, but damn if it doesn't feel good. The first true test on the schedule will be the low-in-the-table but still very high on talent FC Dallas on the road this Friday. If they can play in Pizza Hut Park as well as they played at The Dick today, there's a very good chance that you'll be seeing those Supporters Shield predictions tipping just a little bit more toward the Rocky Mountains.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Caleb Folan. Brillliance on both goals from him, for a huge target forward I was surprised to see that much finesse out of him. If Casey's hamstring continues to plague him all season, it is good to see that we have a backup for his position, and a great backup at that.
GOAT OF THE MATCH: None to speak of.