It seems like it goes against all logic, but the Rapids played some of their best soccer of the season on Saturday against the San Jose Earthquakes despite being down both a goal and a man early. It was an incredibly spirited display, but it didn't prove to be enough in the end as two defensive mishaps were enough to give the Quakes a 2-1 win at DSGP.
If anything is to blame for the loss, it's Colorado going into the game with a complete lack of sharpness. They didn't seem themselves early on in the game -- Chris Bianchi astutely said they were 'sleepwalking' through it -- and though they were accruing chances for themselves, they were also being lazy with their possession and marking in the back. Even though the Quakes aren't the Quakes of last year, they're still a team that can make you pay for that with quick counter-attacking play.
Steven Lenhart ended up doing the damage to the lazy defense. A long ball lifted to him was untouched by any Rapids, even though Marvell Wynne and Chris Klute were both in the vicinity. Both should have done better, with Klute getting a very nice chance to stick a foot in or close Lenhart down instead of letting him shoot from 24 yards out. Instead, he first flinched at the move Lenhart made and then jumped, and he may have even deflected the ball on its way to the top corner.
Atiba Harris finished off the sleepwalking in the 18th minute with an incredibly clumsy challenge on Alan Gordon, which immediately saw him red-carded. I agree with the call by the referee: the tackle was both incredibly late and completely uncaring for where the ball was despite being two-footed. A mind-bogglingly bad decision from a veteran like Harris, though it didn't seem to be a bad one in the end for the team.
The moment Harris got sent off, the team appeared to snap awake and immediately began to take charge. Only a rather mediocre first half by Edson Buddle and some decent work by Jon Busch kept the Rapids from getting that goal back.
It appeared the Colorado's chances were snuffed early in the second when the Quakes saw Sam Cronin sneak unmarked again through Marvell Wynne -- he's almost never great in the middle, but why is it Wynne always reserves his worst games at center back for the Quakes? -- and chipped over a slightly indecisive Clint Irwin in the 52nd minute.
Suddenly being down two goals didn't stop the Rapids, but only seemed to drive them harder. Attack after attack was launched by the Rapids through Martin Rivero in the center and a rejuvenated Edson Buddle, and they came incredibly close a number of times. Eventually, it paid off when Nathan Sturgis found himself open enough to smash a header home in the 67th minute off a great Brian Mullan cross.
For their part, San Jose weren't interested in playing a soccer game after that. They dove, they time-wasted, they started scuffles -- even interim head coach Mark Watson reportedly kicked a ball at Hendry Thomas after a fairly innocuous tackle. (Goes to show that you can lead the Quakes to water, but Yallop's spirit isn't going away. I think I lost the metaphor somewhere in there.) Colorado continued to press and came oh-so-close with a ton of juicy opportunities. Jaime Castrillon came on and nearly worked his magic with a stinging header in the 70th minute. Edson Buddle's oustretched leg only barely missed the equalizer in the 85th.
The team received a reception as they exited the field, and it was completely deserved despite the loss. We can only hope that we keep seeing that sort of fight as the month finishes off.
Sturgis summed it up the best while speaking to the media after the game. "We just have to take the mentality that we finished that game and bring it into the start of the next game. If we do that we’ll be fine. We’ll get something out of our next couple road games if play like we did in the second half."
We'll see when the Rapids head to Chicago.