COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – The Colorado Rapids players were left stunned by a finish to Saturday night’s match that head coach Gary Smith described as “crazy” and “farcical.”
Players either sat in disbelief, fought back tears or swore loudly as they absorbed the fact that two goals conceded in stoppage time helped rivals Real Salt Lake pull off an unlikely 2-2 tie to retain the Rocky Mountain Cup.
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The Rapids largely controlled the game and looked to be coasting to victory after goals from Omar Cummings and Conor Casey gave them the lead. Aside from a few sparse chances in the first half, Real Salt Lake never seriously threatened until the madness of the last few minutes.
Smith, however, said he was proud of his players for what they had done over the vast majority of the game and adamant that such a bitter ending would have no effect on the group going into the first leg of the Eastern Conference semifinal series against Columbus.
“It’s an incredible end to what was a fine display by our group,” Smith said. “I couldn’t have asked for any more from any of those players up until the last three minutes, which was a farce. I’m delighted with how they played; I’m just disappointed with the farcical ending.”
The drama started in the 91st minute, when goalkeeper Matt Pickens delayed clearing a ball from the back and his kick rebounded off Alvaro Saborio onto the cross bar. The ball bounced back into the path of the big striker, who gratefully smashed it home as Pickens lay helplessly on the ground entangled in the back of the net.
Then, following a disputed free kick two minutes later as the final whistle approached, a penalty was called as Brian Mullan appeared to drag down Jamison Olave in the box during an RSL free kick. Mullan said later that he was startled by a movement beside him which reflexively caused him to put an arm out. Saborío converted the penalty and the game was tied.
Smith said his players were angry for all sorts of reasons, not least the fact of not being able to walk around the field with cup aloft after dominating the game. Instead, they had to see their Rocky Mountain rivals parading the cup in front of their traveling faithful when a convincing victory for the home side was just minutes away.
“It was crazy but, all in all for 90 minutes, we were the better team by a country mile,” Smith said. “We showed passion, determination and creativity all rolled into one. The players have put on a display here in the last game of the season that I always hoped they would.
"Tonight, they were able to express themselves and gave a wonderful account of what they are about. It was like the perfect storm for the last three minutes.”
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