COMMERCE CITY, Colo. - Colorado Rapids coach Gary Smith is the first person to admit that, despite his squad's solid start, his youthful team remains a work in progress.
That is the reason why, despite taking a timely lead in the second half, the sloppy play that marked much of the Rapids' effort on Saturday night allowed potential points to wash away.
Colorado remained unbeaten in four matches against the Los Angeles Galaxy at Dick's Sporting Goods Park but was forced to settle for a 1-1 draw in the club's first home match since March 28. Colorado native Colin Clark put the Rapids on the board early in the second half but U.S. national team veteran Landon Donovan provided the equalizer for Los Angeles in the 82nd minute following a defensive miscue by Colorado.
Although the Rapids earned one point, they dropped from third place to fourth in the Western Conference behind Real Salt Lake, who visit Colorado next week. The Rapids had gone 3-0-0 in their previous three home matches against the Galaxy since Dick's Sporting Goods Park opened in 2007 and had not surrendered a goal to the Galaxy at Dick's until Donovan's backbreaking tally.
"It took far too long for us to gain our stride in the possession," Smith said. "It was erratic football, technically, that caused us problems to create. I did, however, feel that L.A. set their stall again and made life very difficult. But it is our job to break them down and create opportunities. We always felt the longer the game went on, maybe the more the game would open up.
"I thought (our) goal came at a good time. But, sadly, from the goal on we didn't really manage the game that well. L.A. started to get a tad more possession and look a little bit more threatening. I would never criticize another coach for their set up or how they choose to come in and play, but L.A. played with little ambition. To go down 1-0, they had to change. And the goal was a gift, I felt."
After a listless first half that saw the Rapids outshot 7-2, including a 2-1 advantage for the Galaxy in shots on goal, Clark managed to give the home side an edge in the 60th minute. Taking a pass from forward Omar Cummings, Clark patiently used a series of fakes against Galaxy defender Omar Gonzalez to free himself for a left-footed strike that beat Los Angeles goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts for his first goal of the season.
It was the third assist of the season for Cummings. Rapids midfielder Mehdi Ballouchy also was credited with an assist, his second of the year.
"I got turned on him with my left foot and showed a little patience," Clark said. "We were fortunate, I think, to get away with one point. When we went up 1-0, I think we kind of just switched off and stopped playing. They got on top of the game and took it to us."
The uneven play of the Rapids doomed the squad to settle for a draw about 22 minutes later. The Galaxy took advantage of a defensive error by Colorado's Ugo Ihemelu to create a line drive shot by Edson Buddle, whose quadriceps injury kept him out of the lineup until he entered in the 69th minute.
Rapids goalkeeper Preston Burpo made an impressive diving save on Buddle's chance, but the rebound caromed directly to Galaxy midfielder Chris Klein on the right side of the penalty area. Klein's pinpoint cross eluded Burpo and found the foot of Donovan, who calmly re-directed the ball for his third goal of the season.
The Rapids' best chance for a second tally actually occurred minutes before Donovan's equalizer, when Denver-area native Todd Dunivant was initially issued a red card for a takedown of a charging Cummings at the top edge of the box. However, after conferring with the linesman, referee Alex Prus not only rescinded the red card but also waved off the penalty. Replays showed minimal contact between Dunivant and Cummings.
The Galaxy finished with an overall shots edge of 14-7, although Colorado finished with a 5-4 advantage in shots on goal. The Rapids played without veteran defender Cory Gibbs, who is nursing a groin injury, and also lost defender Kosuke Kimura in the 44th minute after he suffered an injury during a jarring collision with Burpo as the duo attempted to clear a Galaxy crossing attempt.
"It's very disappointing. It's a game I think we definitely should win," Ihemelu said. "We had a lead. We fought hard for it. A simple mistake led to their goal. It definitely feels like a loss, to be honest."
Pat Rooney is a contributor to MLSnet.com.