First of all, wow.
That game was full-blown-bizonkers insane, and I can't think of a snatch-and-grab like that in my brief time here in Colorado. Feel free to edumacate me in the comments section.
Part of that is due to a very conservative Vancouver team that, after going up 1-0 in the 10th minute, decided to sit back and play for the counter, giving the Rapids 60% possession on the night - 65% in the first half.
But the game was insane because it had everything.
-> Back and forth attacking?
- Yup. The Rapids completed 153 passes in the final third, VWFC completed 109, both a higher than average amount.
-> A plethora of scoring chances?
- The Rapids had 9 shots on frame, Vancouver had 6.
-> A red card?
- You betcha. Eric Miller, sent off in the 71st.
-> A penalty call?
- Oh sure. Jared Watts fouled Cristian Techera in the 87th.
And of course...
-> A late, great, calm and cool-headed goal on a open-play break in the 94th minute by a central defender?
- Yes, yes, and yes.
It doesn't matter how the announcers speak the name of Commerce City's tallest resident. SCHO-berg. SHOE-berg. WHOO-berg. HUUU-bery. Colorado's largest viking just pants-ed your whole team, stole their lunch money, gave them a dugout hotfoot and annexed Saskatoon for King Carl Gustaf the 16th himself.
It doesn't really matter that the goal itself merely rescued a point from what otherwise would have gone down as an aberrant and disappointing end to a long-running unbeaten streak for the Rapids. Instead, the Rapids continued a streak that now stretches to an unbelievable 13 games without a loss.
We're having an improbable year. The impossible can, and does, seem to happen to this team.
Sjoberg's Heroics as Redemption Story
To some, the Axel Sjoberg headed goal to tie the game has the narrative of one of the team's most valuable players doing MVP-type things: delivering in the clutch, being ‘the man.'
But I prefer the other motif often found in the epic tales of ancient heroes: the redemption story. Sjoberg is probably the culprit of the error at the beginning of the game that had the Rapids chasing this one in the first place.
In the 10th minute, the Whitecaps earned a corner off a shot blocked by Mekeil Williams.
That's Kevin Doyle man-marking Blas Perez; Micheal Azira, Sam Cronin, and Eric Miller zone-marking in front of the goal in anticipation of a run; Jared Watts marking Tim Parker; Axel Sjoberg marking Pedro Morales; and Mekiel Williams marking Kendall Waston. Dillon Powers is out there marking MLS' fastest man, Kekuta Manneh. That wouldn't be my idea, but, ok.
On delivery, Parker breaks near post, but Azira, Cronin, and Watts get there first, and Azira heads it out. Sjoberg, meanwhile, picks up Waston and bodies him up goal-side for the duration of the ball flight. Totally perfect. Doyle has a shoving match down low with Perez, annual winner of MLS' 'Least Popular Man' award. Crisis averted.
Or not. The ball bounces out to Manneh, who dishes to Bolanos, and phase two ensues.
Somehow, in the ensuing seconds after the Rapids clear it, Sjoberg loses Waston, and the 6'5" Costa Rican ends up back post with only 6'1" Mekeil Williams to beat. He beats him.
It's a damn fine ball in from Bolanos to Waston, both of whom play for the Costa Rican national team. So, respect right there.
But also, dammit Axel. You lost the plot and you're out there with your thumb in your butt.
That's a pretty rare mistake from the Rapids most consistent defender: 9 times out of 10 #SwedishMissleDefense is all over his man and clears that out, no problem. This critical mistake creates the whole game story line for me: Axel screwed up in minute 10, and spent 83 minutes just waiting for the chance to redeem himself. And, of course, he does just that. But we'll get to that later.
You could also make the argument that Tim Howard can and should come out to get the cross. It's possible, but debatable. I think this one's on Axel.
The Best Goal of the Year
Some people think a great goal is the product of a spectacular shot, and only the shot alone is worthy of earning the distinction of 'great goal'. Think James Rodriguez' double juggle, spin and volley in the 2014 World Cup. Or, like, every bicycle-kick goal ever.
Others believe a great goal is the product of a great individual dribble. Think Diego Maradona's second goal against England in the 1986 World Cup. Or, like, every goal Obafemi Martins ever scored.
Some think it's about the situation: late clutch-goals in critical situations, like Landon Donovan over Algeria, or Axel Sjoberg over Vancouver.
Me? I like pretty passing that leads to goals. Like the Rapids equalizer in this one, at minute 59.
Azira to Cronin... no big whoop.
Cronin to Pappa... that's a long pass through a ton of space, and his first touch is so sweet.
Pappa to Gashi... the way he flicks it smoothly from his right to his left to befuddle the defender, then strokes the clean ball through right to Gashi's lead foot is phenomenal. Marco Pappa is so, so good at the football.
Gashi to Doyle... he receives it clean, then fools his defender juuust enough to pull the ball back behind him to feed Doyle to the RIGHT of the defenders, instead of where all of the play's momentum is headed, which is down the gut.
Doyle makes that run between the left back and center back and leads the pass, which is not only an intelligent run, but it looks like the kind of thing that only happens when you've started to create chemistry with your teammates and can anticipate how a guy likes to strike the ball and where and when.
The last time I loved a goal like this... it was the Sounders scoring on us last year.
The Rapids are making those plays now. I never thought I'd see the day.
Eric the Red
I don't usually like to get into MLS 'Instant Replay' type arguments over cards and penalties. But let's go down that rabbit hole this time.
Going to ground on a ball is always a risk. Anytime you go through a players ankle, you risk earning a card. Anytime you commit a foul that's a certain card, it's possible that card will turn out to be red.
This is a classic orange card to me: it's not an entirely reckless challenge, and Miller clearly isn't going for Morales; he's going for the ball, and he looks like he has a reasonable chance to get it. On the other hand, you can't let guys go in on two-footed tackles all day: people will get killed.
This is the kind of tackle that wouldn't have been called a red in 2015, but the referees have been calling those rough yellows as reds pretty consistently this year in MLS, like it or not. The line has moved up in favor of protecting the players, and a slightly soft red is the consequence.
Watts gives Techera a Hand
This past week, I said some harsh things about Kevin Doyle, and he goes and scores a goal and an assist to save the Rapids. I said some kind and lovely things about Jared Watts, and he goes and does this:
It might be a soft penalty, which, taken in conjunction with Miller's red, makes it seem like the Rapids got hosed up in Canada.
But when Watts puts a hand on Techera's shoulder, he's just asking for trouble. None of us knows if there's an ounce of weight on that tug, whether Watts is intending to pull him back, or whether his arm just awkwardly flails into an unfortunate position. It's simple, though. If it looks like a foul, it's going to be called a foul nearly every time. You tug on a guy in the box and you get away with it, it's like passing a cop doing 65 in 55: you really, really hope he's decided to go after that a-hole in the F-150 you saw doin' 85 a ways back. You might get away with it, but you know you shouldn't be doing it. Watts didn't get away with it. We nearly lost.
I'm gonna stop saying nice things about players for a while, just to make sure there's no 'Rabbi Jinx' at play here.
The Giant Viking Rescue Play
It's pretty awesome that Sjoberg scored the game winner. But what the hell was our starting center back doing lurking far post, so far ahead of so many other players?
The ball had been pinging around in the air for three or so hits off a re-start, and Sjoberg was, either by design or on accident, still high up the pitch: higher than the rest of the back line and both d-mids. After he heads it forward to Marlon Hairston, he and the rest of the team crash the boards in a last desperate gasp.
Meanwhile, Vancouver has only 4 men back, and Kendall Waston decides to come out and challenge Kevin Doyle for the ball. He fails, Doyle sprints to deliver the game-winning cross, game over, a point for the Rapids.
What were the Whitecaps thinking? Why is Waston coming out to try and close down 40 yards out on a guy that's smaller and faster than him? Why did the entire Caps defense not only lose Sjoberg, but lost Hairston too? How did Carl Robinson not suffer a full-blown aneurysm on the sideline afterwards? As spectacular a play as it was for the 'Pids, I can only imagine that Whitecaps fans didn't quite see this as a heroic hail-mary miracle, but instead saw a shambolic last-second melt down.
Hold on, lemme check.
Rapids Thug Life Moment
In the 49th minute Shkelzen Gashi and his defender clattered into one another in the box. No call. What do you think about the call, Shkelzen?
"I was saying 'Falkirkoffergen'. It's an Albanian complement that roughly translates to 'This was the right and fair call, thank you Mister Referee. How could it be anything else, as I do not speak the English so good?' "