It hadn’t happened all year but just as they needed it most, down 2-1 after the first leg of the Western Conference Finals, the Colorado Rapids finally lost a home game. After a magical season in which they’ve overcome all odds and expectations, they fought hard but couldn’t get the goal they needed.
Down a goal but with the advantage of an away score the Rapids only needed a 1-0 victory, a hallmark of sorts for this group at home in 2016.
Against the Seattle Sounders, whose defense had been far from robust in this season, it all seemed very possible and Colorado did their best to put on the pressure and create the chances forward.
The first 30 minutes were all Rapids, with Jermaine Jones and Shkelzen Gashi setting the tone. You wouldn’t have been able to tell that either wasn’t 100-percent fit as they roamed the field, chased down balls to gain back possession, and made themselves dangerous in the final third.
Jones created the first chance right off the opening whistle taking a shot right outside the box that went just over the right corner of the crossbar. Gashi’s passing was pinpoint accurate as he brushed in a delightful corner that just barely missed Jones and Axel Sjoberg’s outstretched heads for the perfect strike just feet away from goal.
In the 9th minute, Gashi would find Kevin Doyle on a run down the left flank who passed it in the middle to Sebastian Le Toux on a streaking run into the box. But as would be the theme throughout the first 30 minutes as Colorado attacked ferociously the pass was just behind and Le Toux couldn’t connect on a golden opportunity.
In the 22nd minute, the home team had their best chance of all as Doyle ran into the box with Seattle keeper Stefan Frei running out to him. Le Toux was again in space in the middle of the penalty box, this time with an open goal, but Doyle’s service was more of a shot than a pass and went innocuously out of bounds.
On an errant Frei exit off of a corner kick shortly afterward Jones would place an awkward shot just over the crossbar. The chances were plentiful with the Rapids dominating possession (59-percent to 41) in the first half and outshooting Seattle 11-to-1 but all those opportunities never truly put Seattle in danger as the visitors managed to defend well and avoid disaster.
Colorado didn’t come out with the second half ferocity that we’ve seen in other hard-fought contests this season, instead, the Sounders seemed to have overcome the worst of things making possession and opportunities forward much harder to come by.
The Sounders began to find fast break chances as a desperate Rapids team dedicated more numbers up front and young star forward Jordan Morris began to shine.
Morris first ran full speed down the left flank to get forward forcing a pass into Nelson Valdez who was well defended. In the 56ht minute, it would be Valdez who at the top of the box controlled the ball marvelously and delivered a great assist to Morris who ran into space beating Sjoberg and finished over an outstretched Zac MacMath with the outside of his right foot.
With the away goal in hand and a commanding 3-1 aggregate lead Seattle was suddenly firmly in control after having been on their back heels for most of the first half.
The Rapids became more desperate in their attempts forward, Pablo Mastroeni put in more attack minded substitutes but little seemed to matter.
The home crowd would have some protest on a few dubious non-called fouls in the penalty area. A Chad Marshall handball on a Marlon Hairston shot in the 65th minute received no whistle but certainly could have, while Roman Torres already having been given a yellow card was graced when he didn’t get ejected for knocking Gashi down in the box on a physical header contest.
It wasn’t meant to be for the Rapids, who finally faced a team who was even less likely to be in this position than them. Seattle has turned their season around and done so without one of the best American players ever in Clint Dempsey.
Colorado was able to greatly limit first leg hero Nicolas Lodeiro’s impact but Morris’ runs and the organized defending from Seattle was too much to overcome.
This groups fight can never be questioned but the hurdle after going down 3-1 was too big to overcome today.