The Colorado Rapids were down a goal and looked down for the count with less than 15 minutes to play in Saturday afternoon’s contest against the Vancouver Whitecaps.
Then José Mari happened.
The Spaniard drilled two golazos in three minutes – his first two goals in a Colorado uniform – to lift the Rapids to a surprise 2-1 win at BC Place, leaving his new head coach Pablo Mastroeni mouth agape.
“It was probably his first shot [this season],” Mastroeni joked to reporters after the game. “He’s your all-around, complete No. 6. We’re delighted to have him around, and more importantly it’s the aura he gives others on the team. His comfort on the ball allows others to be comfortable on the ball: always an outlet, always looking for the big pass, short pass.”
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José Mari only joined the Rapids in February after playing for La Liga’s Real Zaragoza the previous two seasons. A defensive midfielder, goals are relatively rare for the native of southern Spain, despite a brilliant shot that he debuted at the Whitecaps’ expense on Saturday afternoon.
With Colorado down 1-0 in the 79th minute, José Mari took a bouncing deflection just outside the penalty box and, with the outside of his left foot, one-timed a swerving hook past helpless Whitecaps goalkeeper David Ousted.
Tying the game with his first MLS goal was terrific by itself, but José Mari was far from done.
In the 81st minute, all of two minutes after his opening goal, he struck again. After teenage debutant Charles Eloundou tracked down a long pass along the left wing, two more passes set up José Mari for more heroics, and he didn’t miss with his right foot either.
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It was a goal so perfect it briefly confused his own team, who thought his shot has clipped the side netting instead. But sure enough, the 26-year-old had teed up a perfect instep effort that beat Ousted yet again and ensured the Rapids return to Colorado with three points.
José Mari's opportunities to score came in part because he was able to push further up the field due to Matías Laba’s controversial 77th-minute red card. After Saturday’s brilliance, perhaps José Mari will break free from his holding midfield role and assist in the attack more often in the near future.
“For us, [the red card] was a really important moment],” José Mari told reporters. “You have to take advantage of those moments, and we’re really happy with the win. I’m very happy, not just for the goals, but for the whole team.
“Everybody played hard from the first minute and did great. We worked hard today.”
Chris Bianchi covers the Colorado Rapids for MLSsoccer.com.