COMMERCE CITY, Colo. — Barring a 10-minute substitute outing last weekend against the San Jose Earthquakes, two of Macoumba Kandji’s most recent performances in a Colorado Rapids first-team shirt have been remarkable.
Nine months ago in MLS Cup 2010, he came on as a late substitute and then etched his name in Rapids lore for his play that led to the winning goal. The Senegal-born striker nutmegged FC Dallas defender Jair Benítez before toe-poking the ball toward goal where it deflected off George John and into the Dallas net.
However, he tore an anterior cruciate ligament in the process, keeping him from the senior team until last weekend.
Fast-forward to Wednesday night and Kandji’s first start since MLS Cup: The striker proved the difference between the Rapids earning three points in their CONCACAF Champions League debut and losing at home against Isidro Metapán of El Salvador, apparently the weakest team in the group.
It wasn’t just his two goals and his vital contribution to Andre Akpan's game-winning goal in the 3-2 win. It was also his willingness to take defenders on and his use of speed and trickery that caught the eye.
“It’s great for him,” Rapids defender Drew Moor said Wednesday night. “I couldn’t be happier. He came in with confidence, he was trying to take guys on one-on-one, scored two goals, got himself into good spots. That’s got to feel good for him. I know it’s a boost for everyone in the squad when he’s scoring goals and playing.”
The Rapids struggled to take control of their CCL opener, falling behind twice — including after a remarkable opening to the game in which three Metapán touches from the kick off led to Moor fouling striker Cristian Bautista in the penalty area. The visitors were up 1-0 before fans had even settled into their seats after Allan Kardeck converted the penalty.
For the hosts to get back into the game, it needed some special individual play from somewhere — and Kandji duly obliged.
Kandji, who gratefully hugged the physio team after his first goal, also gave due credit to assistant coach Steve Guppy for his tireless work nursing him back to health and helping him regain his confidence.
“Steve Guppy makes me think I am the best step-over guy in the league,” Kandji said.
Rapids head coach Gary Smith said Kandji’s signing from the New York Red Bulls last September was worth every penny because of what he did in MLS Cup last year alone. He praised the tall striker’s patience and hard work over the past nine months.
“It is not easy,” Smith said. “There are a lot of lonely days and a lot of work that goes into it. He’s been a terrific addition.”
And Smith’s prophesy from after the San Jose game last weekend came very true last night.
“We are going to need him over the next few weeks,” he said of Kandji’s late appearance in the 2-1 road victory. “It is very nice to see him back and he is welcome with open arms.”