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Burgundy Backups Beat 'backs: Thoughts on USOC Fourth Round against Switchbacks

The Colorado Rapids gave most of the regular starters a rest and still outclassed their overmatched USL cousins from down I-25. It rained a little, the tickets were cheap, there was a red card, we won at home, the concession stand couldn't process credit cards, and a guy from the Naval Academy scored his first goal. Totally worth $15.

We sure do get pretty sunsets at DSGP. Oh yeah, and the Rapids won.
We sure do get pretty sunsets at DSGP. Oh yeah, and the Rapids won.
Rapids Rabbi

I can’t help it; I love going to US Open Cup games. The seats are cheap, and you get to sit in the fancy-schmancy West Stand. The crowd is full of knowledgeable diehards. You can always catch a rising star, like last year when I saw Kevin Molino for Orlando City SC and thought: that kid is MLS material.

And, of course, it’s a rare opportunity to see the Rapids beat up their opponent. Granted, it’s a third tier opponent, and in this case, an expansion team third tier opponent. But to some degree, a win is a win. And much better than getting knocked off by a third tier opponent. Note that at time of writing, Sacramento is up 1-0 over San Jose and Sounders2 is beating RSL. So don’t take an Open Cup win for granted.

The inaugural match of the Colorado derby ("The Front Range Fracas" ; "The Centennial Slam-aroo"; "A soccer match between two sub-par teams in what most Americans consider flyover country") ended 4-1 for the Rapids. After only a few minutes, it was fairly clear that the Rapids far outstripped the Switchbacks in talent, as Rapids players consistently arrived to the ball quicker and made faster decisions in dishing the rock. Dribbles were cleaner, and passing was more accurate. Hell, for some stretches, it felt like the Springs were playing with ‘Yakety Sax’ playing faintly in the background. They were not very good.

Colorado Springs struggled to get the ball through midfield more than a handful of times all game, as Switchbacks players Argueta, Harada, and Gonzalez struggled to control the dribble, find the outlet, or ran the ball right into Sam Cronin and Nick LaBrocca all night. The Rapids, meanwhile, got the ball out to Charles Eloundou all night with no trouble. Eloundou made runs, put on the moves, and really created problems all night. Dillon Serna got a chance to play as the number 10, and looked fantastic all night, albeit against an overmatched Switchbacks side. The Switchbacks were listed as playing a 4-3-3, but the Rapids dominated possession and pinned their opponents back so consistently that the Switchbacks mostly looked like they were playing a 4-5-1 all game.

The Springs had some talent on the field, with striker Aaron King showing some flashes of skill and LB Kley Bejerano defending and crossing with acuity. Then again, Bejerano fouled the bejeezus out of Dillon Serna to the great ire of C38.

In the first half, the Rapids put up two goals against the Springs: the first was a perfect ball through the heart of the defense by Sam Cronin to Dom Badji, who finished with some perfect spin into the bottom right corner for goal number one. The Switchbacks fouled the Rapids on a run down the right to set up the next goal: a free kick to a nearly unmarked Joe Greenspan who headed it home for his first goal for the Colorado Rapids.

The game featured a few rough challenges in the first half, but the ref kept his cards in his pocket. That was until Josh Phillips brutalized Dom Badji with a tackle down the right side and was sent off on a straight red card in the 61st minute.

Serna got a goal four minutes later on a dribble and rifle shot. The Springs would grab a late goal in the 89th minute, but it was mostly just something to give Pablo a chance to yell at his defenders for switching off. Interestingly, the goal happened a little after Claudio Lopez had subbed off James Riley for Drew Moor, who played his first minutes as an outside back that I’ve ever seen. Might be the last time, too. The Rapids got a final goal in the 91st on a weird ball that looked like Dillon Serna had side netted a slow roller across the goalmouth from sub Luis Solignac, only to find out that A) the ball had gone in and B) it was ruled a Colorado Springs own goal. Whatevs.

There were two surprises to this game. Surprise one was the radically youthful Rapids lineup; featured a bevy of non-first teamers. Zac MacMath, Dom Badji, Dillon Serna, Marlon Hairston and Shane O’Neill all got the nod; all of whom I’d suggested might make interesting starters, but I was still totally shocked to see play. The biggest surprise of all, though, was Joe Greenspan, Navy midshipman and Rapids noob, getting a start and a goal. To be honest, I hadn’t even known he was practicing with the team.

Serna and Badji looked solid. Eloundou had two electrifying runs with razzle-dazzle skill moves in them. Marlon Hairston made a convincing case as a real MLS fullback. Our center backs and GK didn’t see enough chances to really render a full verdict, in my opinion, although they did a fine job with the few chances they saw.

Surprise two was in the technical area, as Pablo Mastroeni was absent, which @shawndelp informed me was due to his being sent off in last years Rapids-Silverbacks match in USOC 2014. Claudio ‘El Piojo’ Lopez sat in as coach, and earned his second MLS win; he picked up the ‘W’ against Dallas too.

Hopefully the win will get some mojo working for our side. Even if it doesn’t necessarily spell a full-blown turnabout for the burgundy in the MLS season, the win means the Rapids progress to the next round in the Lamar Hunt Open Cup. A magical cup run for DC United in 2013 was a bright spot in what was a tough year for Washington. Perhaps the Rapids can also take advantage of the knockout format and deliver a first-ever Open Cup to Denver.