Is this the performance that tells the rest of the league that the Colorado Rapids are for real in any potential postseason run?
The Rapids took another major step towards their first playoff outing in four years with a gutsy 1-1 draw in the hostile surroundings of Rio Tinto Stadium. If it hadn’t been for a Nat Borchers’ 93rd-minute goal, Colorado could have escaped Salt Lake with all three points.
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But they would have taken the one point if you had offered it at the start of the game.
Think back to last year’s 3-0 drubbing in the last game of the regular season in Utah, when the Rapids didn’t even compete in a game that finally extinguished any slim chances they had of making the playoffs.
Rapids head coach Gary Smith described last year’s team in that game as “bystanders” when he talked to MLSsoccer.com after the game on Saturday. The 2010 version of Colorado is a different breed.
“There are some long faces right now,” Smith said after the game. “But, when it comes to tomorrow morning, I hope they will be able to dissect the game a bit better. There are too many good things going for us into Wednesday’s game and we can feel very good and confident about ourselves.”
After a frenetic first 25 minutes, both teams began to settle. But it was the Rapids who took the lead in the 36th minute when a pinpoint cross from Kosuke Kimura found Conor Casey’s head. The striker angled himself expertly to power a header into the corner of the Salt Lake net.
Relentless second-half pressure from RSL, interspersed with some real opportunities for the Rapids to extend their lead, finally broke Colorado down. The injury-time header by Borchers, who out-jumped an otherwise superb Marvell Wynne on the night, rescued the home team and kept their record unbeaten streak at home intact.
“In those last 15 minutes, we limited them to long-range crosses and, with the goal, it was a long range chip into the box where Matt [Pickens] was caught a bit in between,” said Smith. “This place does seem to be a bit of a scourge.”
A scourge indeed. Colorado almost broke the hex for visiting teams to Rio Tinto, but they will be happy they seriously competed against the reigning MLS champions in their own backyard, and gave notice to the rest of the league in doing so.
Though they would have loved all three points, the result sets up the Rapids very well, if not perfectly, for two upcoming home games next week. On Wednesday, Colorado entertain Philadelphia before hosting D.C. United on Oct. 2.
Smith knows those are games the team must win even though he and his players will respect the opposition. After Saturday's frantic and brave draw, and the last three home games where they have won 3-0 each time, the Rapids should be feeling confident they can get the maximum out of next week.
“These home games are not to be taken lightly,,” Smith said, "but there is a real steely determination in this group to finish the job off."
With two wins next week, the team could reach 44 points. They then go on to two difficult away games at Dallas and then Los Angeles, before Real Salt Lake return across the mountains to Dick’s Sporting Goods Park for the final game of the regular season on Oct. 23.