KANSAS CITY, KS - JULY 06: Conor Casey #9 of the Colorado Rapids traps the ball that sets up his goal as Aurelien Collin #78 of Sporting Kansas City looks on during the first half the game on July 6, 2011 at LiveStrong Sporting Park in Kansas City, Kansas. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
It was perhaps a road point that some fans will detest, but it was a road point of incredible importance as the Rapids came into the fortress of Livestrong Sporting Park and did not lose to a Sporting Kansas City team that has become known as notoriously hard to defeat on their new home turf. Regardless of how it happened - and it happened in a manner strikingly similar to the last time these two teams met in Commerce City - this was a good result for a team that had been struggling.
With Brian Mullan, Jamie Smith and Anthony Wallace all being sat out of the game due to minor injuries and with the rest of the squad still tired after playing a hard fought game against the Houston Dynamo, coach Gary Smith needed to be a bit creative with the lineup, throwing out an unconventional version of his 4-4-2 that featured Ross LaBeaux on the wing and the same back four as the Houston game with Drew Moor playing left back. More importantly, Conor Casey and Omar Cummings were starting up top together for the first time since the home opener against Portland. Strangely, Kansas City's line up was a 4-3-3 but without the familiar face of rookie of the year candidate CJ Sapong starting up top.
The game begin with a literal bang as Teal Bunbury smashed a ball off the post on a beautiful curling shot that probably would have beat Matt Pickens on a better day for the young US International. Possession in this match came evenly - the end of halftime showed a 50.1/49.9 difference in possession with the Rapids having the statistically insignificant lead - but in large bunches as the Rapids and Sporting traded chunks of possession in their final thirds. Early on in the action, Pablo Mastroeni found the bad end of a collision in midfield that he got yellow carded for - he will miss the next game due to yellow accumulation - and came down hard on his ankle. After playing fairly well for another ten minutes or so, he was subbed out for Joseph Nane.
Tyrone Marshall earned a free kick in the 31st minute, which he launched all the way down the field to a waiting Conor Casey. Casey proceeded to settle the ball perfectly, turn the defender on him around and launch a beautiful 22 yard shot right into the bottom corner of the net. Probably the prettiest goal that Conor has ever scored in his entire footballing career, and a huge boost to the Rapids early on as they continued to play well throughout the end of the half.
The second half started with Kansas City looking far more calmed down as expected, with their first half jitters behind them. CJ Sapong came into the match for Bunbury a few minutes into the half and as predicted made an instant impact. His shot toward Matt Pickens in the 63rd minute caught the keeper off guard and his juicy rebound was picked up by Graham Zusi, who made no mistakes to finish it and equalize the match.
As the game continued along, the possession continued to come in bunches but more and more it seemed to favor Kansas City, who since their goal had a newfound fervor about them. Sapong to his credit had all sorts of chances, but it was Omar Bravo who produced the best chance after the goal as he hit the inside of the crossbar during a scrum inside the six yard box. The Rapids had their chances as well, but none with the accuracy to hit the post. Sanna Nyassi - himself an early sub in the half for LaBauex - shot a bullet that hit... something. It very much looked like he had scored the Rapids second but somehow the ball wound up outside the net there.
The six minutes of stoppage time called made little sense but Colorado and Kansas both held their shape fairly well throughout the torrents of extra time. CJ Sapong very nearly stuck a dagger into the Rapids in the 95th minute with a brilliant shot that Matt Pickens needed both a fingertip save and some help from a friendly crossbar bounce to keep out.
Colorado next plays the Vancouver Whitecaps at home in what should be an exciting game at Dick's Sporting Goods Park on Saturday of this week in their third game in ten days. The Rapids need to start picking up three points from some of these games, but for now we can be greatful that in a hard place to play like LIVESTRONG Sporting Park they were able to hold even one.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Conor Casey. He was dominant all match, scored a wonderful goal and very nearly had a brace on a couple of occasions. He looked so much more confident with Omar Cummings by his side, which can't be understated!
GOAT OF THE MATCH: Jeff Larentowicz. An invisible game for the most part for the ginger ninja, and the few times he showed up he was turning the ball over way too much. One of the few days to forget for the usually stable Larentowicz.