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Early goals haunt Colorado Rapids again in blowout road loss to FC Dallas

Pablo Mastroeni knew it. The Colorado Rapids knew it. But that didn’t stop it from happening again in Saturday night’s 3-1 loss at FC Dallas.

Two goals within the first quarter hour on Saturday had the Rapids down and virtually out of the match mere minutes after the opening whistle, a recurring problem that took place in alarmingly similar fashion to other early goals allowed in recent games. FCD defender Matt Hedges’ ninth-minute strike came after a defensive breakdown where Hedges was left completely unmarked in the box, and that was followed minutes later by Michel’s 11th-minute goal from the penalty spot after a controversial penalty was awarded on Rapids defender Marvell Wynne’s challenge.

The Rapids’ early defensive lapse comes a week after another defensive blunder helped Real Salt Lake jump out on top early in their 1-0 win over Colorado, and Dallas’ two goals marked the fourth time in the last seven matches where the Rapids have allowed a goal in the 16th minute or earlier. In those four matches, the Rapids have earned all of one point combined, a major contributor to their mid-summer swoon.

“Once again, I think we were our biggest enemies [Saturday],” Mastroeni, the Rapids’ head coach, said postgame. “[The early goals] just come down to concentration and focus. You’ve got to want to do anything you can, and it’s not that hard. You’ve got to find a way to believe you’re not going to concede a goal in the first 15 minutes of any game. And right now, it happens once and then our head goes down.”

On the flip side, Saturday’s score line didn’t do the Rapids justice – they dominated large parts of the contest in both possession and chances – but old problems reared their ugly heads once again. Defensive consistency and finishing, both consistent issues during this recent slump, were particularly glaring again on Saturday for Colorado, who slumped to their fourth defeat in their past five matches and have just five points from their last seven games.

“When you’re sitting behind the eight ball 15 minutes into the game, it’s a really tough hole to crawl out of,” Mastroeni said.

Whatever the solution might be to stopping early goals in particular, the Rapids have to figure it out quickly. Sliding down the congested Western Conference standings, the Rapids’ schedule is about as difficult as it gets over the next month, with a trip to D.C. next weekend (next Sunday, 8:00pm ET), and matches against Seattle and the Galaxy on the horizon.

“This is a learning experience, and one we’ve got to fix,” Mastroeni said. “You have to be tuned in for 90-plus minutes. That’s the challenge for this group.”

Chris Bianchi covers the Colorado Rapids for MLSsoccer.com.