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Game Recap: #USOC2017 Rapids 3, OKC Energy 2

The Rapids were caught napping - twice - and fell behind early, but clawed their way back to advance in the 2017 edition of the US Open Cup.

Castillo with the game winner.
John Babiak, @photog_JohnB

The story of 2017 for Colorado might be encapsulated perfectly by this game: backs to the wall, buried at the bottom of a mineshaft, the team gutted out a win to rescue themselves from certain disaster. After falling behind 2-0 by halftime, the Rapids responded with 3 goals in regulation to survive the fourth round of the US Open Cup over USL foes OKC Energy FC, 3-2.

The Burgundy Boys put out a lineup mainly consisting of reserves, while OKC came into the match looking to bunker and counter. Oklahoma played something of a 5-3-2, with the midfield tightly spaced with defenders that made it tough for Colorado to break them down. The Rapids forced the ball out to the wings and crossed in the first half, aiming squarely for Alan Gordon’s headband.

In his first start of 2017, Dillon Serna slotted in at left back. In the 26th minute, Serna went for a headed clearance and whiffed; the ball settling at the feet of OKC right back Richard Dixon. Dixon dished to striker Daniel Jackson, but the shot was blocked wide by Rapids center back Eric Miller.

That crisis was averted, but the next chance wouldn’t end up so lucky for the Rapids. After a Rapids turnover at midfield in the 37th minute, Jackson swung the ball out wide to streaking Energy winger Daniel Gonzalez. Gonzalez handily beat Rapids defender Dennis Castillo on the dribble and was in alone on goal against Zac MacMath, tidily finishing the ball in the back of the net and putting Oklahoma City ahead 1-0.

The frustrated Rapids re-doubled their efforts on offense, but their efforts to push numbers forward exposed them on the counter. Dixon and Jackson raced down the pitch to find Danish midfielder Philip Rasmussen in the box. Clean finish. 2-0, Energy, and the Rapids went in at the half in dire straits. An injury only a minute earlier to Bobby Burling sent him off to the trainer’s room, with Dominique Badji coming on to replace him.

Colorado came flying out of the locker room with something to prove.

In just the 49th minute, Dennis Castillo was free on the wing wide to the right and swung in a howling low cross right to the foot of Dominique Badji. The Rapids striker settled the ball and laced it past goalkeeper CJ Cochran, and the Rapids had clawed one back.

The next few minutes saw an opportunity for each team. Joshua Gatt made a run on goal and was pulled down in the box, but the diminutive female referee waved play on. Shortly thereafter the Rapids gave away a bad pass in their third leading to an OKC 3 v 3, but Zac MacMath was able to scoop up the loose ball before anything transpired.

The Rapids tied up the match in the 66th minute off of a corner from Dillon Powers. The ball came to the head of Alan Gordon, and he headed it just wide of the post. But a perfectly placed Eric Miller was there to save the day, volleying the ball home to make the score 2-2.

Kevin Doyle came on for Gordon right after the goal. With Jared Watts having made way for Marlon Hairston in the 61st, and the earlier injury sub for Bobby Burling, the Rapids were all out of subs by the 68th minute - a sign of how desperate and aggressive Pablo Mastroeni wanted to play this one. Powers dropped back into a role as a defensive mid, while Doyle assumed the duties as the attacking mid/striker just underneath Dominique Badji.

The final 20 minutes were one-way traffic as the Rapids poured on the attack against a clearly shaken Oklahoma side. In the 75th, it was a weaving run through the Energy defense by Joshua Gatt that was passed off to Marlon Hairston, who slipped before he could shoot. A minute later, Dom Badji would get loose one-on-one on the left side of the box and get a shot, but the Energy keeper would punch it out and over the end line. Another chance for Badji in the 87th would be cleared. A minute later, Badji would take another shot; this one blocked by former Colorado Rapid defender Anthony Wallace that skitted out of bounds, setting up the big moment for Colorado.

With only a minute of regulation to go, Dillon Powers took the corner kick. His near post cross found Dennis Castillo nearly unmarked, and Castillo took his chance to put the Rapids ahead, 3-2. In the final four minutes of added time, OKC looked out of gas and out of ideas, and the final whistle meant that Colorado would advance, likely to meet an MLS opponent in the next round.

After a terrible 2-1-8 (WTL) start to the season that had most pundits writing off the Rapids for dead, they’ve rattled off three straight wins, including this Open Cup match. The warning is clear in individual matches as well as the season writ large: it is a bad idea to write this team off too early. They come alive best when their backs are against the wall.