The last time we saw the Colorado Rapids play the San Jose Earthquakes, it was a couple weeks ago on a dreary day in Commerce City made worse by choppy, sloppy football resulting in one of the most boring games in recent memory.
By contrast, both teams squared off Wednesday night at Buck Shaw Stadium in a game that featured plenty of drama and scoring chances. The only commonality between both games was a 0-0 tie when the final whistle blew.
Wednesday's game was somewhat of a reversal for the Colorado Rapids, which bounded off the opening whistle to force much in the way of positive play in the early minutes. The Rapids this season have typically offered up disjointed, unorganized play to open the match, only to force the issue offensively later on in games (8 of their 10 goals come after the 60th minute).
But Colorado had their share of scoring chances early on. One sequence had Edson Buddle punching a ball loose in San Jose's penalty area, sending the ball toward Gabriel Torres's outside foot for what seemed to be a certain goal. But defender Chris Klute was on the scene and offered up his own shot, which sailed harmlessly about 15 rows up in San Jose's tiny, temporary stadium.
It was really Torres's only chance of the match; the Rapids first designated player remains mired in a slump after an impressive run of games late in the 2013 campaign.
The Rapids would pick up some more chances here and there in the first half, but couldn't deliver on a scoring opportunity. Of particular interest was the play of Charles Eloundou, one of the most mercurial players in Rapids history owing to the bizarre circumstances of his arrival to the squad. The 19-year-old Cameroonian made his first Major League Soccer start on the wing and seemed to give Quakes defenders fits on the flank. Eloundou made several cuts to pass his marker, but struggled to make one and one equal two when subsequent shots were blocked and passes were cut out by a stout Quakes defense. His ability showed much promise, but like many teenagers playing professional ball, the diminutive and electrifying Eloundou had a hard time finishing plays.
The hero of the second half was goalkeeper Clint Irwin, who made several key saves to stem the tide of offensive play the Quakes deployed in the latter stages of the game. One decisive moment was denying a clear goal-scoring opportunity by former Rapid Atiba Harris, who measured up a shot from inside the box and sent it to the middle of the goal. Irwin was leaning toward his left, but left enough room to dispatch his right paw and sent Harris's high shot flying out of danger.
The Rapids acquiesced quite a bit in the second half. Their offense reverted back to an unaggressive, unimaginative attack for much of the second half. Buddle seemed keen on taking on the Quakes defense, which enjoyed a strong outing led by locomotive-sized Victor Bernardez. But Buddle, who's seeking his 100th goal, rarely received much in the way of support from Kamani Hill or Torres. By the 75 minute mark, the Rapids seemed content sitting back and hoping to escape with a tie, a strategy that defied coach Pablo Mastroeni's stated goal of playing positive ball throughout the team's games. The Quakes, as they often do, almost made the visitors pay for their defensive approach with a late goal. Striker Chris Wondolowski outgunned an otherwise adept Rapids defense to put a shot on goal late, only to have the outside post push the ball aside and away from danger.
All in all it was a solid, entertaining effort by the Rapids. Their offensive motor still isn't running efficiently, especially in the absence of Vicente Sanchez. Dillon Powers (Quakes color man Chris Dangerfield said Powers is a candidate for the U.S. World Cup squad in Brazil, which was news to me) played fairly well, but the Rapids attack still mostly lacked organization and finesse. The defense played well for the most part, frustrating Wondolowski and offering little in the way of opportunities for Rapids-killer Alan Gordon. The one opportunity Gordon had was on a wide-open look on Irwin, which Gordon splayed wide with an impotent shot.
Anther promising note from the match was the play of Jared Watts, a second-round draft pick who seemed awfully comfortable in a professional setting. He helped clog the midfield for the Quakes, and played like someone many years his senior. Aside from Watts' play, he was remarkable for his shiny black footwear that looked more like the shoes you get with a tuxedo rental than a pair of soccer cleats.
The Rapids left San Jose with a strong 2-1-2 record on the road, and gained a little ground on FC Dallas in the Western Conference standings, who lost on Wednesday night to the surging Seattle Sounders.