The Colorado Rapids' chances of bringing home hardware -- any hardware -- this season quickly evaporated into the thin Salt Lake City air Saturday night.
As the Rapids failed to mount an attack -- any attack -- in the 2-0 loss they saw their hated rivals claim another Rocky Mountain Cup (six in a row for RSL, which also won the first meeting 2-0) and vault further up the Western Conference table. Colorado, meanwhile, continues its dismal slide.
If the Rapids don't come out of it -- and it's beginning to look like they won't -- they can chart this season's failure to a whitewashing in July.
Consider: Have the Rapids this month been able to sustain anything? Offensive pressure? Creative flair, other than a brief outburst here and there? Solid defending? A steady, solid lineup? The answers all around are 'no.' The latter issue of a shifting lineup is hardly an excuse; all teams have to deal with injuries, cards, etc.
If Oscar Pareja questioned the team's identity after the Toronto game, I can only imagine what he's thinking now. We here at Wave HQ have been harping on the July identity of the Rapids: Punchless.
Here's what Colorado has sustained: losses -- five in a row and seven of the last eight games; horrific defending -- the tidal wave of July futility can mostly be traced to defensive blunders; anemic offense -- against Salt Lake, no shots on goal until the 50th minute and zero attempts in the first half.
The bleeding must be stopped, and the TV commentators seem content to apologize away the Rapids' problems on fatigue, on lineup shuffling, on the still-developing (??) chemistry of a new system. The team just needs a midseason break (hello All-Star game) and will likely revive in the second half, they say.
Stop the excuse train! This team -- a pale shadow of the powerhouse of two years ago (it needs to be said) -- is ripe for a shakeup, something to jolt it out of its worse-than-ever midsummer swoon.
The first-half lapses against Salt Lake, especially the goal, were painful to watch. Another defensive miscue, this time a hospital-ball back pass from Marvell Wynne to Matt Pickens allowed Rapids-wrecker Fabian Espindola to waltz in. Before being upended by Pickens, he nicked the ball across the face of goal for Alvaro Saborino to tap in.
Pareja was smart enough to queue up immediate substitutes in the second half. Omar Cummings (for Jaime Castrillon, 46th minute), Brian Mullan (for the feckless Edu, 56) and Kamani Hill (for Martin Rivero, 74) generally acquitted themselves better than the starters, especially Mullan, who worked hard to generate offense.
The Rapids got off their first shot in the 50th minute when when Tyson Wahl's blast from the left forced Nick Rimando into a save. In the second half, Colorado did a better job of maintaining possession and creating chances. But aside from a nice one-touch combo between Tony Cascio and Joseph Nane that sprung Cummings in the box, nothing materialized. Oh, that didn't materialize either, as Cummings' shot sailed over the crossbar.
The team certainly missed having Conor Casey (hamstring) to hold the ball up front and Jeff Larentowicz (yellow card suspension) to anchor the defensive midfield. On the bright side, Nane mostly played admirably in Larentowicz's place.
The game ended with the proverbial "salt" in the wound. In the 90th minute, Sabario stole the ball from Tyrone Marshall in the Rapids' defensive zone and slotted a pass to Will Johnson, who drilled it past Pickens.
GOAT OF THE MATCH: Edu. I've been scratching my head about what he's brought all season.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Matt Pickens. Made some nice saves that kept it from being a complete blowout.