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11/23 FINAL
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11/30 9:20pm
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Eastern Conference Championship

Uphill battle too steep for Colorado to climb

COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – Colorado Rapids midfielder Brian Mullan could barely speak after his team’s 1-0 loss to the Seattle Sounders on Friday night.

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The MLS veteran, ejected in the third minute after his reckless tackle resulted in Seattle winger Steve Zakuani suffering a broken tibia and fibula, struggled to find words in the aftermath of his actions.

“[The incident] was unfortunate,” Rapids midfielder Wells Thompson told MLSsoccer.com. “It could happen to anybody. … [Mullan is] hard and he gives it his all. You know Brian is struggling with it.”

“Brian’s a very genuine guy and I don’t think there’s any serious intent there,” Rapids head coach Gary Smith said. “He’s just a good, experienced and competitive player and, tonight, he’s fallen afoul of that. We’ll certainly give our best wishes to Zakuani and wish him a speedy recovery.”

The incident and Mullan’s subsequent ejection clearly rattled a Rapids squad eager to end a run of two straight defeats, and ultimately proved too difficult to recover from.

“It changes the course of events in so many ways, an incident like that,” Smith said. “I think it took the wind out of everyone’s sails and then we have 10 men for 85 minutes and that makes life incredibly difficult.”

A man down and still trying to find their footing on the pitch, a lightning counter from the Sounders in the 19th minute added to the Rapids’ woes.

In a three-vs.-four attack initiated on the right side, Seattle flew down the pitch until the ball found Fredy Montero, who then beat ‘keeper Matt Pickens from the top of the 18-yard box.

“The goal that they scored was their first attack,” said Smith. “The goal was pretty soft, I have to say. It goes through Matt’s legs. Maybe the fact [Montero] didn’t strike it properly was a problem.”

Despite the uphill battle, Colorado kicked things into high gear, displaying their trademark work ethic to control possession for the majority of the match. Unfortunately, the Rapids suffered on the technical side and created few real scoring opportunities.

“There were so many things that weren’t right,” Smith said. “Our final pass wasn’t good enough. There wasn’t enough cutting edge. The inspiration to make a chance just wasn’t there.”

It didn’t help that two of the team’s more creative players, Jamie Smith and Pablo Mastroeni, had to be withdrawn early because of niggling injuries. Their departures gave others the opportunity to step up and make an impact, but that didn’t happen either.

“Somebody’s got to step forward and make a name for themselves,” Smith said. “Everyone gave a tremendous working effort. There can never be any criticism of the efforts put in, but somebody, somewhere, when you are playing against the odds, has to do something a bit different, and that wasn’t there.”