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Rapids regroup to equal Columbus at home after shock start

John Babiak

In the middle of an essential three-game homestand, Colorado Rapids faced a formidable Eastern Conference foe Saturday night in Commerce City. MLS veteran Felipe Gutierrez made his first start in Burgundy but at the gap of the Rapids Captain Jack Price. Jack was out with a different injury concern this week, officially denoted as an “upper body” issue, most likely stemming from an incident last weekend against Minnesota United FC when the skipper was down on the turf for a bit in the first half.

Colorado took a bit to get into the match, as Columbus Crew started much more energetic. A corner kick in the fifth minute drifted to the Rapids back post, where Cucho Hernandez snuck behind Keegan Rosenberry, beating Lucas Estevez to the ball, and headed home the lead from point-blank range for the Crew.

“It’s concentration and a really good ball by Pedro Santos and good finish, but preventable and just a concentration lapse,” Fraser said after the game. “And we’ve had far too many of those, and certainly after we scored, the emphasis for me was to not concede a goal just before halftime, because we’ve conceded early in games, we’ve conceded just before halftime, we’ve conceded early in second half, and we’ve conceded late in games and those are the goals that kill you. So and again, in our effort to strive for consistency, one of the things we have to do is close out halves and close out games.”

That gut punch seemed to wake the home side up and fans began to see the pressure they’ve become accustomed to with Michel Barrios, Jonathan Lewis, and Gyasi Zardes getting deep into the attacking third with some possession. However, Columbus was constantly on the ready for quick counter-attacks when a touch let Colorado down or they were pulled out of shape, which unfortunately was all too often in the first 20 minutes.

In the 23rd minute, Rubio set Zardes up with a perfectly slotted ball to the penalty spot. His first attempt was blocked, but Lewis controlled the rebound and when it returned to Zardes he beat the keeper to the far right post. All was for not, though, as Zardes was whistled offsides on the initial pass, and Columbus kept the lead.

The increased pressure finally paid off for the home side as a slick cross by Barrios in the 39th minute to the center of the six yd box for Lewis was dangerous. In fact. a Steven Moreira handball denied Lewis’ shot, but the damage was done, and a penalty kick was awarded to Colorado. After some stalling by Columbus keeper Elay Room, Rubio smoked it under the hand of Room, diving to his right and a much-needed equalizer breathed renewed life into the Rapids just before halftime.

The second half action started with Colorado taking much more of the initiative, as opposed to the beginning of the match. The backline was more stout in their man-marking, even with Crew players softly hitting the turf repeatedly, and positioning allowed for better coverage. Offensively, the Rapids popped long balls down the flanks making Columbus track back often and quickly.

Sam Nicholson and Steven Beitashour came on for Colorado in the 64th minute as fresh legs along that left side flank, as both Lewis and Estevez were very active up to that point. In the 69th minute, Nicholson made his presence felt after a nice turn to his left with possession and floated a ball to the back post forcing a mid-air dive from Room under pressure.

In the 76th minute, Rosenberry kept the Crew honest with a nice looping cross to the Columbus back post for Zardes. It was nodded down by Gyasi but cleared away before he could set his feet and get back to a shot. Columbus caused a dangerous moment for William Yarbrough three minutes later as the Rapids keeper came well off his line for the Crew cornerkick, but the shot was shanked well wide and things remained tied.

Both sides visibly pushed more chances in the final ten minutes, causing play to really shift quickly from one end to the other trying to secure all three points. Rapids youngster Yaya Toure came on for Barrios in the 86th minute as HC Robin Fraser looked for some late-game heroics from the Rapids2 star with a knack for scoring. Unfortunately, just four minutes into his shift Toure went down to a leg injury and was carried off by trainers leaving the Rapids with 10 men for stoppage time, and they hung on for the shared points.

In an odd twist at the beginning of stoppage time, the Rapids technical staff were issued red cards for a bit too much verbal issue taken with the center referee. Neither were to assistant coaches but appeared to be for other bench personnel.

“Interesting game. I thought both teams opened up and were vulnerable in transition,” Fraser said. “Obviously, they have very, very good attacking players and that gave us some issues early on. But I thought we found ways into the game and created a couple of half chances, but we weren’t as clean in the attacking end as we need it to be and the game really just ended up being back and forth and I’m not sure either team deserved to win so draw may have been a fair result.”