The Colorado Rapids won an often too tense encounter with the Houston Dynamo Saturday night, putting them through to the semi-final round of the MLS Cup playoffs. With the win Colraodo clinched the number two seed in the Western Conference and is now in reach of the Supporters Shield.
Dominique Badji starred with two fine finishes giving the Rapids the lead twice, in a fundamental away win. The young forward has now scored six goals on the season, four of which have come in the last month. Ever since star striker Kevin Doyle has been sidelined by injury, Badji has stepped up in a major way and become a terror for opposing defenses.
In the 12th minute, as the teams were still feeling each other out, the Rapids striker got behind the defense on a lobbed pass from Dillon Powers into the box. From a hard angle, the Senegalese youngster put the ball smack onto the far post to bounce it into goal.
Though things briefly seemed easy for Colorado following that surprising first goal, the Rapids never took advantage in the first half. Happy to control things, but never creating any true chances. As they have in seemingly every game in which they've taken the early lead, the Rapids relaxed and allowed an equalizer right at the end of the half. After having been the better team in the first 45 they went into the locker room all tied-up 1-1.
Once again, it was Badji who revived things off of a beautiful pass from Powers. The lethal combination was at it’s best in this game and on this particular score. Powers received the ball with his back to the net, turned and played in a through pass that split the Houston defense. With that pass No. 14 did the rest, putting on the turbo and burning the defenders surrounding him to calmly chip the ball over the Dynamo’s keeper for the 2-1 lead in the 54th minute.
This time, Pablo Mastroeni’s side was less naive with the lead, as Houston’s play became more frantic and forward thinking, playing right into Colorado’s hand. In the 79th minute on a forced turnover by Micheal Azira the Rapids capitalized on their opponents desperation. Azira found Shkelzen Gashi streaking down the left flank who calmly controlled, took a step forward, and then let a dirty shot off that ended up into the left corner. 3-to-1 Rapids and everything seemed clinched and done.
The Dynamo made things interesting with a second goal from Mauro Manotas, just to remind Rapids fans that no lead is ever safe no matter how good the defense. Down only one goal with 10 minutes left Houston pressed on forcing Tim Howard to be at his best, taking care of crosses and sticking his big mitt out on a low shot from Jose Escalante.
As the final whistle arrived, everything is still possible for this team; Supporters Shield and MLS Cup included. It wasn’t a controlling or dominant win by the Rapids but an away victory is always hard to come by in this league, especially in October. The Rapids are now only two points behind Western Conference leaders Dallas FC and have played one less game.
With a win Thursday in Portland against the Timbers Colorado would be in first place. Everything is in their hands with this latest win. For now they can enjoy clinching a top two seed (meaning a knowckut round bye), and having the most points of any team in franchise history.