The Rapids are starting to look like their old selves again.
In a solid if unspectacular performance, Colorado beat NYCFC 1-0 in their second-to-last match of pre-season, snagging a goal just before halftime in a game held in Tucson, Arizona on Wednesday evening.
The Rapids started a veteran lineup in the first half: all 11 players were regular starters for the 2016 edition of the Colorado Rapids.
For the second half, the team swapped out the entire lot for a team full of newbies, rookies, and guys still trying to lock down a job for this season with the club.
46' - Subs are in to begin the second half.— Colorado Rapids (@ColoradoRapids) February 23, 2017
Mizell; Williams, Burling, Ford, Castillo; Boateng, Hamilton; Callahan, Perez, Cascio; Calvert.
Meanwhile NYCFC started a lineup that mostly played the full 90, minus many of their top talents like David Villa, Ronald Matarrita, Jack Harrison, Maxi Moralez, and Alexander Ring. The Rapids only notable absence was Shkelzen Gashi, who likely was resting an achilles injury that was reported last week.
The lone goal in the match was scored by Rapids captain Sam Cronin. NYCFC defender Shannon Gomez failed to fully clear a bouncing header in the 18 yard box as the last seconds ticked down in the first half. Cronin laced a volley from the top of the box past NYCFC keeper Eirik Johansen to give the team a 1-0 win.
In the second half, the Rapids absorbed wave upon wave of pressure from minute 50 to minute 75, with the defensive backline of Mekeil Williams, Bobby Burling, Kortne Ford and Dennis Castillo doing an able job of thwarting the blues. The Rapids trialist GK Cody Mizell was hardly tested, save for a weak backpass from Ford that nearly turned into a disaster. Mizell cleared it away before a streaking Khiry Shelton could pounce on it.
Dillon Powers distinguished himself with smart and physical play in the first half, while Marlon Hairston also made several dangerous dribbles in the first frame, and Zac MacMath made one critical save on a swerving NYCFC shot.
In the second half, Kort Ford and Dennis Castillo saw a lot of the ball, and both were consistent, although not offensive difference-makers on this day. Nana Boateng looked stout in defense and Sam Hamilton’s positioning denied the passing lanes to NYCFC in their final third consistently. However, Nana also laid a fair number of errant passes as well, which he’ll need to sharpen up in order to put the team on it’s best footing.
Tony Cascio had the team’s best chance of the half around the 65 minute mark on a sharp dribble-cut-dribble-shot in the box. Cascio’s performance Wednesday, along with his two assist, one goal performance on Saturday, may have the team pondering whether to maybe sign the former Rapid to a full contract for 2017. Ricardo Perez looked sharp in receiving and turning in space to aggressively move the ball forward in attack, while Liam Callahan, playing at left midfield, hardly saw the ball enough for any meaningful contribution.
With one final tuneup match for the Rapids this Saturday (opponent and time TBD), expect the team to play a more regular lineup that goes a full 70 to 90 minutes instead of swapping a large mass of players at the half, as the team attempts to better simulate an actual gameday experience for its starting XI. There are still a few unanswered questions, like whether Nana Boateng pips Micheal Azira or Dillon Powers for a midfield spot, whether Dom Badji, Kevin Doyle, or Marlon Hairston will be the odd man out on opening day, and which of the younger players will earn a spot on the long end of the bench, versus being sent to Charlotte or released outright.
So even though it’s still preseason, many Rapids players seemingly have a lot to play for.