Colorado Rapids fans, players and coaches alike must be wishing they could play against the Vancouver Whitecaps every week. While the previous match against Vancouver was a nail biting 2-2 draw at the death, the Rapids simply seem to find their groove against these Whitecaps.
In a game that saw the Rapids control possession and create many more chances than their opposition, it’s the defense that looked to get back on track after a tough outing. With Bobby Burling back in the starting lineup, playing next to Axel Sjoberg, the Rapids had very few (if any) scares in the back. After a 5-1 embarrassment against NYCFC last time out, that’s just what the doctor ordered for Colorado’s backline.
The Colorado defense was organized in the middle, staying completely mistake-free, even in possession, while the wide defenders generated push and assists down the flanks.
With Micheal Azira suspended due to his carding at Yankee Stadium, the Rapids seemed to have more playmaking and creativity in midfield. Sam Cronin was his usual feisty self, while Dillon Powers, Cronin’s midfield partner for the day, took care of possession and tried to distribute, looking quite comfortable in a more classic central middy role.
The attack had a new variation in this game as well and it also paid huge dividends. Shelzen Gashi played centrally in the Rapids number ten role and he looked very sharp and dangerous going forward all game. Being credited with eight shots and six chances created.
Marlon Hairston was the true star of the offensive unit for the Rapids. Hairston did everything; he marked and pressed the defense incessantly, creating some dangerous turnovers early on in the game. He also made himself a threat in front of goal, barely missing a tap in as a defender tipped it out of bounds and coming very close to a header in the box that the Whitecaps goalkeeper stopped.
Shortly after that save, which left Hairston on the ground grasping the back of his head in pain, Hairston broke through and found the back of the net at the 44-minute mark to push the Rapids ahead, 1-0.
The play was initiated by a great Marc Burch run, who barely beat Vancouver defender Tim Parker to the ball in space. Once Burch got on the ball he crossed in a beautiful curling pass, the low ball found Hairston in front of goal and he cleanly put the ball away in net.
The Rapids dominated possession at the beginning of the game and created several more chances in the first-half than Vancouver, who barely did anything to keep Tim Howard busy. The Whitecaps made an effort to control the ball more in the second half but that didn’t stop their issues, especially staying behind Hairston on the wing.
In the 60th minute, Eric Miller who was down the right flank found Hairston on a perfect pass that brought the winger into space where he drilled a perfect cross in the middle for Dominique Badji, who did not miss from close range and pushed the Rapids' lead to two goals.
As the last 30 minutes of the match wore on the Whitecaps attempted to push higher, making more attacking minded changes and trying to take control of possession. Still, little that Vancouver did in their final third truly scared the crowd at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park.
The Rapids closed the game with a close to flawless 2-0 victory, getting back on track as the leaders in the Supporter's Shield race (at least for Points Per Game Average). If Pablo Mastroeni's side can find another gear like they did today, there's no telling what this team is capable of.
The final assessment for coach Mastroeni was that this was the finest performance he's seen all season.
"From Tim Howard to Kevin Doyle and everyone in between, it was probably the best performance of the year." said a proud coach.
“It was the best week of work that we’ve had all year [in practice]," continued Mastroeni. "So this result today I think is a culmination of all of that.”
Bouncing back from a tough loss, the first of the season, is never easy. The Rapids passed the test with flying colors.