For a short while in the game against the Philadelphia Union, the Colorado Rapids showed up just as sharp as they had against FC Dallas in their opener a week ago. Eight minutes in, the team was dealt the same death blow that they got last year when Pablo Mastroeni was pulled from the match with a hamstring injury.
We've said it before and we'll say it again, Pablo is the most important player on the Rapids by a long shot. Not necessarily because of his play on the field -- though that is quite a large part of it -- but because of his ability to glue the squad together mentally. When he was knocked out, shades of 2012 began to creep into the team's play, especially in the midfield.
Nick LaBrocca, much as we love him, wasn't linking up half as well as Pablo had been with Hendry Thomas. Dillon Powers went from looking like a rookie of the year candidate to looking lost as the central attacking midfielder ahead of a now less effective possession base. And unfortunately, the Rapids made one or two mistakes in the wrong end of the field that led to dangerous set pieces.
Philly scored on the second of those set pieces, a corner kick in the 34th minute. Abomi Okugo was completely unmarked -- I believe that Marvell Wynne was supposed to be the guy on him -- and Matt Pickens seemed to lose his head for the three seconds that it took to put the ball in the back of the net. Not a Steward Ceus-ian mistake by any means by Matty, but still not encouraging goalkeeping.
Just like in Dallas, Colorado didn't quit after going down. It was nowhere near as firey a run out as they had in Dallas and the chances/possession weren't nearly as lopsided, but you could tell that there was still a chance they could win the match if a ball bounced their way.
Oscar Pareja made a smart move by putting in veteran presence Jamie Smith at the start of the second half, removing the post-Pablo ineffective Powers. That helped to settle the game in the midfield a bit, as Pablo's influence was clearly still missing but the Rapids weren't losing the ball quite as much and dishing it decently around to the forwards.
It paid dividends around the 68th minute -- I say 'around' because the damn scoreboards were broken all day -- when Jamie Smith had a vintage Jamie Smith goal, the ball landing at his feet at the top of the box and him letting loose a beauty of a curler.
After that goal, the Rapids turned the jets on to high, and as is the unfortunate way the scripts can go sometimes, they really only made one more error for the rest of the game -- the one that gave Philly their second goal. Jack McInerney was sprung through on a long ball that the Rapids defense was a step off of, and Matt Pickens probably could have done a bit more on the easy finish that seemed to go ethereally through him.
Colorado finished the game holding the ball and creating a good number of chances, the most hilarious among them being a shot on goal from Pickens at the halfway line, but the finishing and chemistry was still that tiny bit off and nothing came of anything in the end.
Unfortunate to lose again, but certainly not the end of the world. Remember, in a season where the team ended up 11-19-4 last year, they were 2-0-0 at this point after looking rather blah through two games, wins as they may have been. This time around they're 0-2-0 with two decently good looking performances under their belts, which is certainly no cause for panic. The question will be if Pablo is able to get back on the team sooner rather than later, we've already seen time and time again that we really do quite need him.