We've been waxing lyrical around here lately about the depth of this new Colorado Rapids team, with plenty of new names putting in good, solid minutes in the midfield and at forward.
Turns out that having your first choice team out there is still a pretty nice thing to have. With Conor Casey, Omar Cummings, Marvell Wynne and the rest at almost full health, the Rapids put out one of the best teams, if not the best team, that we've seen all season talent wise on the field. The Casey/Cummings and Moor/Wynne pairings were back and the bench was stocked with starting caliber talent as well. Needless to say, we were hoping for something special.
Fortunately, the Rapids were more than happy to provide.
We're used to slow starts from this team this year, but they came out with a heck of a fire under them after two straight heartbreaking losses to Vancouver and San Jose. They grabbed the ball right from the outset and never let go, having seemingly every second of possession in the first half which gave them a bunch of early chances. Specifically, the Timbers were dismal at defending the wings which left the wingers and fullbacks open for cross after cross.
Both Jaime Castrillon and Conor Casey had near misses on headers from great crosses in the first couple of minutes, which foreshadowed how the rest of the game would be going.
It took until the 18th minute before the Rapids were finally able to break through. Hunter Freeman had been given free reign of the right side of the pitch all day, and he found himself wide open to make a low cross to Jaime Castrillon. It smacked off his leg and ended up in the net for a 1-0 lead.
Honestly, with the way that the game played out after that, Castrillon's goal was probably the only thing they needed. Unlike Gary Smith's old strategy of sitting back with a lead though, Pareja's Rapids kept on pounding.
Conor Casey got his first goal of the year only three minutes after the first goal after another great cross came in, this one from Brian Mullan. Casey was able to snap it down and into the corner away from where Troy Perkins was expecting, a vintage Casey goal. With Omar Cummings on the field alongside him, both strikers were regularly getting double teamed and even occasionally triple teamed by defenders, just like in the old days of lore with those two on the field.
At the half the 2-0 scoreline stuck and the statistics were telling of just how bad the beat-down had been. Colorado were outshooting Portland by three and had 60% of the possession along with a passing accuracy well over 80%. It only got worse after the game restarted.
Portland started the second half with a spell of decent possession -- likely spurred on by a fiery half time talk by John Spencer I'm sure -- but Kris Boyd and Mike Fucito could never seem to get through the defense, which killed most of their attacks before they started. Eventually the Rapids started to get the ball back on their own feet and kept the 60/40 possession numbers going.
No more goals were scored by the starting line up, but not for lack of trying. Eventually Omar and Conor both went down with separate knocks, which required them both to get subbed off. Tony Cascio came on along with Jamie Smith and the two fresh legs proceeded to do a damn fine impression of the two strikers they had come on to replace.
Cascio and Smith had both been terrorizing the back four of the Timbers, but it took until the 89th minute to see the fruits of their labor. Cascio picked up the ball and made a wonderful slanted run into the area with Smith racing toward the goal. Cascio made a perfect, tiny touch that got Troy Perkins to leap off his line and then immediately chipped it right in front of the net and off Jamie Smith.
Goal number three was the first of the year for Smith in his debut, a wonderful moment for the Scotsman. Even more impressive though was the run of Cascio to create that play, a play that most veteran players in MLS wouldn't even be able to pull off. Our Rookie of the Year candidate's second assist might have been the highlight of the season so far, even if it was simply a garbage time dagger to the heart of Portland.
Just goes to show that a team with depth is great, but a healthy team with depth can be lethal.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Conor Casey. His first few games back from injury, he looked a bit timid and afraid to get too involved in physical play, usually his bread and butter. In his second start in a row now, he finally looks like he's back to his old self. A great goal by him and plenty more that could have been. Great to have you back, Conor.
Still, just about everyone had some man of the match moments in them during Saturday's beautiful spectacle.
GOAT OF THE MATCH: Uh.