Rapids thankful for Pickens heroics as defense falters

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There was at least one positive that came out of the Colorado Rapids 2-0 defeat to D.C. United at RFK Stadium on Wednesday night: an outstanding performance from goalkeeper Matt Pickens.

SAVE: Pickens denies Russell

On a night where Pickens was forced to stand on his head for large portions of the frustrating defeat, the back four of Hunter Freeman, Drew Moor, Tyrone Marshall and Luis Zapata struggled to contain a rampant United attack. In all, the Rapids ‘keeper recorded eight saves — including a stunning stop from Dwayne De Rosario’s long-range effort and a point-blank save from Robbie Russell — putting in a magnificent performance that was the only thing keeping the game from truly getting out of hand.

Postgame, Moor pointed the finger at himself and the rest of his backline mates.

“[We can’t] let in soft goals like that,” Moor told MLSsoccer.com. “We need to stay concentrated for 90 minutes, we need to deal with crosses a little bit better. … I think we’re frustrated on a night like this.”

The defensive struggles simply fit into a larger picture of inconsistent defense all season long from Oscar Pareja’s squad, which has now allowed 13 goals in six defeats and just one goal in five victories.

Though no goals were scored from set piece situations on Wednesday, dead-ball action once again proved to be a liability with Pickens outstretching for two key saves off a corner and free kick during the match, a small sample size of poor defending from the visitors.

The defensive breakdowns began in earnest in the 25th minute, when an odd-man rush led to Lewis Neal’s slicing through ball finding a sliver of space between the retreating Moor and Jeff Larentowicz, and De Rosario made no mistake with the finish for the match’s first goal.

Following a slew of saves from Pickens to close out the first 45, the Rapids did no better in the second. Zapata was left alone to cover two players on an odd-man attack, and Hamdi Salihi made no mistake when left entirely alone after Pickens made the initial diving save.

All-in-all, it was a difficult night at the office for the Rapids, particularly in organizing the defensive side of the ball and staying compact.

“We have to be much more careful in the back about allowing errors and losing important points,” said Pareja, who also hinted tactical changes could be coming for Saturday’s game. “Mentally, we need to get better defensively.”

Despite defensive difficulties Wednesday, Pareja continues to hold out hope that a defensive solution can be found to keep Pickens from having to stand on his head game in, game out.

“In three days there’s an opportunity to get better and not allow goals,” Pareja said. “So we have plenty of confidence that we’ll bounce back and we’ll put in the work we need,”

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