Despite form, whenever a defending MLS Cup Champion side takes on a team that only has two wins by the time the season is half over, the champs should expect to take a victory away and that's just what the Colorado Rapids did tonight as they defeated the Vancouver Whitecaps 2-1 for their first win at home since way back in early April when they defeated DC United 4-1 with a great late surge of goals. The form just hasn't been there and this win was probably not by the margin that the Rapids were hoping for but going into Seattle for the next game, Colorado needs all the momentum that they can muster.
With Pablo Mastroeni missing, Gary Smith decided to take the all out offensive route, playing with three strikers on the field. Conor Casey, Caleb Folan and Omar Cummings on the wing provided plenty of options - and fireworks - up top and proved to be one of Gary's best line-up selections so far this season. On the other hand was Danny Earls getting the start at left back with Scott Palguta as his back up; Anthony Wallace did not dress for this game. (In fact, I saw him playing rock/paper/scissors with Quincy Amarikwa and Ross LaBauex in the locker room, but that's another story.)
The game was fairly easy going from the outset, with what Coach Smith called 'a tentative first 10 minutes' that lacked pretty much anything. Colorado had to wait until the 11th minute to get their first shot of the game, a Jeff Larentowicz bullet from 25 yards out. From then on the Rapids controlled the play fairly well with a weakened Vancouver team providing very little in terms of competition. Danny Earls wound up getting an injured ankle around the 20th minute, which would have been a Christmas miracle had Anthony Wallace or Tyrone Marshall been the one to come in and replace him. Instead, it was Scott Palguta who came in and played centrally while Drew Moor moved out to the left.
Conor Casey spent the game adjusting wonderfully to wearing the captain's armband with the usual captain Pablo Mastroeni out of the match on a suspension for accumulated yellow cards. He scored his sixth goal in seven games - a torrid run of form for a guy who hadn't scored in his first three appearances and then went out injured for the longest time! - in the 25th minute after a wonderful ball from Jamie Smith completely fooled the Vancouver center backs and left Casey unmarked and ready to take a first touch and crush it into the net in the six yard box. Certainly, Vancouver were missing the services of Jay Demerit tonight.
Vancouver to their credit tried to answer the Casey goal immediately when former first overall MLS Superdraft pick Omar Salgado broke away from the Rapids and launched a shot from about 30 out past Matt Pickens and the post.
At the end of the half, a lightning storm hit Commerce City and caused a very long rain delay as lightning began to strike dangerously close to the stadium. All in all, the halftime break lasted an extra 25 minutes before the severe weather finally quelled and the play restarted. The weather break seemed to affect both teams as the play after the elongated break started slow and tentative from both sides before the passing and shots started again.
Casey almost got a brace in the 53rd minute as his shot from the six yard box missed the net by inches and smashed into the backside of the net. Quite literally everybody in the stadium was fooled into thinking it was a goal as the cannon went off and the stadium erupted, taking a couple of minutes to realize that there wasn't actually a second on the board for Colorado.
Brian Mullan came into the match in the 62nd minute for an effective - albeit lacking in scoring touch - Caleb Folan and made an almost instant impact. New addition to the Caps squad Jordan Harvey creamed Mullan in midfield in the 67th minute and was yellow carded. The resulting free kick went right to the head of Conor Casey, who was unlucky to get his second goal as
the dried up husk of Joe Cannon made a great save. Scott Palguta was waiting to clean up the garbage and put away the easy rebound goal for his second garbage goal of the season, both of which turned out to be game winners.
Of course, it being Scott Palguta, the reason why both of his goals have been game winners is because he's singlehandedly allowed a goal of his own to pass through the Rapids net both times that he's scored one. It took less than ten minutes for Vancouver to finally break down the defense as Vancouver forward Camilo took a pass that went right by an unmoving Palguta and slotted it past Matt Pickens after expertly rounding him. Fortunately for the Rapids, that would be the final goal of the night as they controlled the tempo for the rest of the match even through four minutes of stoppage time.
All in all, it's a win that the Rapids really needed, as I called it the first 'must win' game of the season. The Rapids need to take every point that they can get right now and these games against 'easy' teams need to translate into that. Home form is going to be - as it was last season - the key to the Rapids playoff hopes. The Rapids have two road wins, and in all honesty we can't expect them to get that many more. Right now, the Rapids have 5 out of the suggested 11 points in July and four more games to get the remaining six points. to guarantee that, they're going to need two more wins and the momentum from this game will have to do some of the carrying in that regard.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Conor Casey. The man is on an unbelievable run of form right now and continues to be the best striker on the Rapids. Six goals in seven games is just amazing form for the guy, and he was unlucky to not have two tonight. Add on an assist and you have a brilliant performance by Casey filling in the Captains role and filling it well.
GOAT OF THE MATCH: None really to speak of, Palguta scoring a goal obviously meant I couldn't get on his case as much for screwing up and allowing Vancouver to get one right back. Kosuke Kimura wasn't all that great tonight but still had some decent service and was defending when he really had to. A great all-around team performance. Perhaps Danny Earls for making the Rapids waste an early sub?