CCL: Hungry Kandji has dream return match for Rapids
COMMERCE CITY, Colo. — Although unsatisfied with their performance in their 3-2 win over Isidro Metapán on Wednesday, the Colorado Rapids walked out of the match with two major positives: the return of Macoumba Kandji, and their first three points ever in the CONCACAF Champions League.
“Mac Kandji scores two goals, that’s probably the biggest thing,” said Jeff Larentowicz, who served as captain for the night. “Everybody’s been waiting for him to come back and he’s had nothing but a positive attitude, like he showed tonight. That’s a big positive.”
In his first competitive start since suffering an injury in MLS Cup 2010 in November, Kandji put in a Man of the Match performance to fuel his team to victory, scoring twice in the first half and helping set up Andre Akpan’s game-winner in the second half.
With the Rapids down 1-0, Kandji rose to meet a Scott Palguta cross just yards away from goal to even things up in the 16th minute. He celebrated by going straight to the bench to thank the physiotherapy staff who nursed him back from the ligament injury that kept him sidelined for so long.
Then, with Colorado down by one again, the lanky striker tapped in a pass from Akpan just before the halftime whistle to once more restore parity.
Kandji’s performance throughout the 72 minutes that he was on the pitch won him a hearty ovation from the home crowd.
“It’s good not only to come back like that but for my confidence as well,” Kandji said. “I was very hungry. I always try to give 110 percent, but it was a different story tonight because it’s been a while since I played and I am very grateful for that.”
Head coach Gary Smith said he was delighted to have Kandji back, describing his striker’s performance as “a great homecoming.”
“What an influence on the game,” Smith said of Kandji, who also showed a lot of confidence by taking players on. “The timing of the goals, the skill, the trickery — it was a wonderful performance.”
Despite coming back twice to beat the Salvadoran club, the Rapids felt their performance left something to be desired.
Smith had gone into Wednesday’s match emphasizing the importance of the home games in the CCL. But within 15 seconds of the opening whistle, Metapán had been awarded a penalty.
“Not good enough from the start,” said defender Drew Moor, who pulled down Christian Bautista in those opening seconds. “We need to be better from the start of the game, but we’ll take those positives, take the three points and put it behind us quickly.”
According to Larentowicz, Colorado struggled because they underestimated their foes. It’s a mistake he said they learned plenty from, and one they won’t make again.
“It was a rude awakening and kind of an educating experience for everybody,” he said. “There’s no reason to overlook any of these teams. We thought we would be able to come out and control the game and we didn’t.”