The result was the same, but the play was noticeably and positively different – particularly on the defensive side of the ball – for the Colorado Rapids in their 1-0 loss at the Seattle Sounders on Saturday afternoon at CenturyLink Field.
Sure, the Rapids suffered their sixth-straight defeat, tying a club record. But the much-maligned and injury-riddled defense showed marked improvement on Seattle’s rain-slicked turf thanks to a combination of tactics and tighter marking on Saturday.
“I think we were much more solid defensively as a team,” Rapids head coach Pablo Mastroeni told reporters postgame. “I think people were more tuned into those little moments in the run of play. [But] to be beat on a set piece is very disheartening.”
Defensive problems have been a huge issue for the Rapids over their six-game losing streak. Colorado has allowed 16 goals now over their six-game skid (2.67 GAA), including 11 in their previous three games heading into Saturday’s contest.
But Saturday appeared to be a turning of the corner for the visiting side, who were forced to push fullback Thomas Piermayr into the middle of defense to compensate for Drew Moor, Shane O’Neill and Jared Watts’ respective injuries.
The crossbar saved the Rapids in the 58th and goalkeeper Joe Nasco, making his MLS debut at the age of 30, made some big late saves, but mostly the Rapids did a decent job of helping stifle the Seattle attack. Mastroeni appeared to implement a more conservative game plan, stuffing the midfield and bunkering down once the ball crossed the halfway mark, with forwards Deshorn Brown and Edson Buddle coming back to help defend as well.
“The team played well, and we had a lot of blocked shots,” said defender Marc Burch, who marked Dempsey on the goal, said postgame. “But I let the team down on one play today.”
With a difficult schedule still on the horizon for Colorado and the playoffs becoming a more and more distant possibility, the defensive improvements must turn into results soon, or the Rapids will miss out on the postseason for the second time in three years.
But Saturday, at least, appeared to be a good start.
“The attitude was right tonight,” Mastroeni said. “Overall, the silver lining is what I’ve been living on for the last six or seven matches. And again, you see steady improvements in a young team with a lot of promise moving forward. But at the moment we’re making it difficult for ourselves to stay afloat in the playoff picture.”
Chris Bianchi covers the Colorado Rapids for MLSsoccer.com.