COMMERCE CITY, Colo. — The consensus is that no MLS team can continually trot out its best starting XI if it is also involved in the CONCACAF Champions League. The minutes logged on the pitch and the miles logged in the air, traveling to places like San Pedro Sula, Honduras, or Heredia, Costa Rica, simply take too much of a toll.
The Colorado Rapids, playing in the CCL for the first time, appear to have fully taken that idea to heart as they challenge for a playoff position in the league as well as try to get off to a good start in CONCACAF play.
They’re doing well on both counts. The past two months have seen Colorado climb the league table, while the past two weeks have seen them remain undefeated in their two opening CCL games, grabbing a win and a draw. That includes Tuesday night’s a highly respectable 1-1 result against Real España in Honduras, a game in which Colorado fielded a number of squad players.
Backup goalkeeper Steward Ceus made only his second first-team start ever. In front of him was a relatively inexperienced back line which included Mike Holody and Danny Earls, who have only two MLS starts between them this season. The midfield included Ross LaBauex and Joseph Nane, who have just five MLS starts between them in 2011.
Rapids head coach Gary Smith sees the result as hugely encouraging going forward, as he seeks the balance needed in challenging for titles on both fronts.
“It’s a wonderful experience for [the younger players]," Smith told ColoradoRapids.com after Tuesday’s game. "It’s a really good atmosphere here tonight, against a very good team, and I think this could be an instrumental result in a group that’s going to be very, very tight."
What’s more, the resting of key senior players allows for fresher legs going into this weekend when the team has to get on another flight, this time with a much shorter journey to face Chicago on Saturday. Pablo Mastroeni, Matt Pickens and Marvell Wynne did not travel to Honduras while Brian Mullan, Tyrone Marshall, Caleb Folan and Macoumba Kandji saw no playing time. Drew Moor played just the last 20 minutes and Sanna Nyassi played only 10 minutes.
“We should have a reasonable group available at the weekend for Chicago,” Smith told MLSsoccer.com, thanks primarily to the rest he was able to give so many key members of the roster.
For the younger players, or those who are not typically used as much, Tuesday’s game and result could mean a lot more playing time going forward. Holody, for example, said he very much enjoyed playing alongside Scott Palguta in central defense. The two are regulars in the reserve side together.
“That’s my first real start, but I’ve played next to Scott and trained with him for, well, this is my third year now,” he told ColoradoRapids.com. “I’m pretty comfortable with that relationship.”
For Palguta, it was a seamless switch to play with Holody in such a big first-team game.
“I thought it worked pretty well,” he told MLSsoccer.com. “We have a pretty good understanding and were very much on the same page.”
Santos Laguna issue
The Rapids knew it would be a hostile environment in Honduras. They will be thankful, however, that there was nothing like what happened at last weekend’s Santos Laguna vs. Monarcas Morelia match in the Mexican Primera División when gunfire erupted outside the stadium, causing the match to be abandoned.
The Rapids will travel to the same stadium in Torreón in October for a Champions League matchup. Smith said he had not talked to the players about the incident, and Palguta said he hadn’t heard the story.
When asked if he would consider asking for the Oct. 19 game to be rescheduled, Smith said he hadn’t given it any thought yet.
“I am sure there will be some decisions made within the club, but will we get a choice in the matter?” Smith said. “Who knows? We’ll look at that when it gets closer to the time.”
What Smith and the Rapids do know is that the away games in the CCL are never easy given the hefty travel, the heat, the different infrastructure and the hostile crowds. That’s why he is so delighted with a point from the first road game. The Rapids will also travel to El Salvador, on Sept. 28 for a return game against Isidro Metapán.
“None of these places are easy,” he said. “It won’t be easy in El Salvador either. It’s not exactly Sandals, is it?”