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

Injuries, set pieces doom Rapids in loss to Sporting KC

The Colorado Rapids went to Kansas City believing they could upset the odds with a makeshift starting lineup. But in the end, it was the absence of key starters and the team’s subsequent inability to defend on set pieces that saw them come unglued in a season-ending 2-0 loss to Sporting Kansas City in the second leg of the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

The Rapids have relied heavily on their depth all season as they battled on two fronts with the MLS schedule and the CONCACAF Champions League, but the loss Wednesday showed just how much they miss the likes of defensive stalwarts such as Drew Moor and Kosuke Kimura.

Nearly all of the Rapids’ players lamented the absence of Moor, in particular, who was so vital for the club in defending set pieces. The iron man defender, who earlier this year broke the MLS record for consecutive 90-minute games as an outfielder, suffered a separated right shoulder in Sunday’s first leg and was unable to travel for the finale.

HIGHLIGHTS: Sporting KC 2, Colorado 0
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“[The set piece goals] happened right where Drew usually is,” central midfielder Jeff Larentowicz told MLSsoccer.com. “We felt losing Drew. He’s a player who organizes us and, especially on set pieces, he can do things on his own.”

Combined with the lack of offensive threat the Rapids showed when they so desperately needed to get an early goal, the weakness on the set pieces killed off any chances the team had to pull off a surprise victory.

“You hope you can get on top and, if you get a goal, anything can happen from there,” said Wells Thompson, who filled in for Kimura at right back. “[The first goal] was definitely a blow, and it was tough to play good, pretty soccer out there. We missed a lot of the leaders on our team and we gave up two dead balls in the back, and Drew is key on those. We definitely missed him.”

The Rapids started Wednesday’s game with eight regular first-team players out, six of whom started the MLS Cup final last November.

Head coach Gary Smith paid tribute to every one of his players, but said it turned into too much of a mountain to climb after the misfortunes of the first half last Sunday when Moor, Kimura and Caleb Folan were all injured. The sending off of Tyrone Marshall in the 57th minute in that first leg just made things all the more difficult for a team that was already without key players Pablo Mastroeni, Conor Casey and Jamie Smith.

“[The injuries] don’t take away from the fact that the guys who have come in have done a very, very good job," the coach said. "But when you play against good teams, you've got to have a strong lineup. The mountain just gets steeper to climb. But even then, I’m real proud of how the guys addressed the second period.”

The Rapids now return to Colorado, the long 2011 season over. Goalkeeper Matt Pickens won’t be alone in hoping the team has better luck with injuries next year.

“We missed some guys tonight, that’s what it boils down to,” Pickens told MLSsoccer.com. “Guys with experience, guys who can grind out these wins on the road and home. We just missed all those guys and hopefully next year we get them back and this group will be refreshed, rejuvenated, and we start again from scratch and make another run at it.”