On a beautiful Saturday night, the Colorado Rapids played a feisty match against western conference foe San Jose Earthquakes. Despite creating some key chances in the match the Rapids were unable to push the ball in the back of the net, for the crucial three-point win at home.
While the Rapids continue their unbeaten record at home this year, they missed a golden opportunity, as direct rivals in the standings FC Dallas and Real Salt Lake bringing home a point between the two of them this week.
"We created two of the probably the best opportunities that we've had all season tonight," said head coach Pablo Mastroeni after the game, summarizing the frustration with the final result.
In the first half, it was the Rapids who began the game creating the most danger. Some quick passing action in the final third led to some nice opportunities the home team just barely fell short of finalizing.
Sebastien Le Toux combined with the two midfield playmakers, Sam Cronin and Dillon Powers, to do a nice job covering the midfield and providing quality service going forward.
The two big chances for the Rapids came on a quick passing sequence that left Marlon Hairston one-on-one against San Jose goalkeeper David Bingham. Hairston couldn’t squeeze the timely volley into the back of the net, instead, missing the shot out wide and colliding with the Earthquakes keeper.
The other big opportunity for Colorado came on a fast break chance by Dominique Badji who did everything right in avoiding his only direct defender and getting face-to-face with Bingham. The Quakes No. 1 was able to disrupt Badji’s run just enough to get him wide. Badji missed from a bad angle with an open goal in front of him as a result.
While possession remained even early on, it was the Rapids who were able to translate their possession into opportunities. Getting into the final third with fast one-touch passing, that was generally very accurate until the final third, where Colorado often found a crowded box. Disallowing them to get through with the final shot or pass.
As the first 45 minutes of play progressed, San Jose started coming out of its shell, getting into space and finding more opportunities to get by their direct defenders. This led to a quick sequence in the last ten minutes before halftime, in which Colorado suffered three different yellow cardings. With the defending in back becoming more sloppy, the visitors began to create some offensive chances themselves. Most dangerous of all coming with a shot in the box that Tim Howard saved twice, first with a monster foot save and then stopping the ball as it was slowly trickling towards goal.
With the defending in back becoming more sloppy, the visitors began to create some offensive chances themselves. Most dangerous of all was a shot in the box Tim Howard saved twice, first with a monster foot save and then stopping the ball as it was slowly trickling towards goal.
The second half saw both teams fatigue and so spaces opened up, as both teams lost their compactness and shapes. This lead to more end-to-end play, but not the same type of dangerous goal scoring opportunities that we saw in the first-half.
Once again, the home team's biggest chance came off the foot of Badji, who found himself in front of goal thanks to a great pass from Cronin, who found him wide open on the right edge of the box. Badji took a few steps into the penalty area before he let his shot fly that lacked any trajectory on it and ended up hitting Bingham’s lower half to go out for a corner.
The Earthquakes, on their part, managed to create more chances as well. With little more than five minutes left, the Quakes almost had a point blank shot within the penalty area, only to see a heroic Jared Watts get in front and avoid disaster.
While San Jose created more quality possession in the Rapids half, the danger was limited. Both teams tried their hardest but couldn’t get past crowded boxes and fine goalies.
Colorado’s defense was the silent star of this game, even more so than Howard. Watts played one of his best games of the year and was named the player of the game. He was truly impeccable in the middle of the back line. Axel Sjoberg had a few missed tackles, one which led to his carding, but was solid in the back, efficiently clearing balls in the air or the ground.
The Rapids defense essentially canceled out Chris Wondolowski’s impact in the game, as Wondo never found a shot or dangerous pass in the final third. While limiting his touches in all other areas of the field. Not an easy task against one of the best strikers in MLS history.
In attack, the experiment with Badji as the primary striker continues with good results, though lacking the final deadly strike to take home those three points. The Sengalean did a great job in sneaking behind the defense and getting face-to-face with opposing keepers, but today his ability to finalize was lacking in the game's crucial stages.
The Rapids played a tough game and will have lots of positives to take away from the match. Though, ultimately what loomed on the team's minds was what they didn't do.
"Credit to Badji for his movement and his ability to get in his spots," said Mastroeni. "You know, really unfortunate not to finish those, but you bury one of those and San Jose needs to come out and throw caution to the wind. That's when you can get your second and that's when you can get your third [goals]. But it's that first one that you have to land with a good opportunity and, unfortunately, tonight, we didn't. "
As the playoff race tightens, the Rapids have lost a golden opportunity, but little ground on their direct competition. The tricky race for the top two seeds of the Western Conference continues and things will only get harder from here.