COMMERCE CITY, Colo.–The Colorado Rapids might have been eliminated from playoff contention six days ago, but Saturday afternoon’s match with the Montreal Impact still had major playoff implications as the visitors looked to secure a foothold on the sixth position in the Eastern Conference.
In order to secure that spot, and leave only Orlando City SC in contention for the East's final seed, Montreal relied yet again on Didier Drogba.
The 37-year-old Designated Player scored his ninth goal in nine games for the Impact, netting a 30-yard free kick in the 15th minute to give Montreal a 1-0 win. The victory, which moved Montreal four points ahead of Orlando, snapped Montreal’s two-game losing streak after the side dropped consecutive contests against the Lions and the Supporters' Shield-leading New York Red Bulls.
Rapids head coach Pablo Mastroeni, following his team's playoff elimination last week at the hands of rival Real Salt Lake, opted for a starting lineup rife with youngsters, including 21-year-old Marlon Hairston at right back and 24-year-old Zac MacMath in goal. Additionally, 22-year-old rookie Dominique Badji got the nod as a winger in Colorado’s 4-2-3-1 formation.
Colorado’s youth movement showed promise with early chances, including headed efforts by Badji and fellow rookie Axel Sjoberg in the third and 10th minutes.
But it was only a matter of moments before the visitors turned the tide in their favor.
In the 14th minute, with MacMath charging out of his box, Rapids midfielder Dillon Powers stepped in front of Impact winger Andres Romero, who was on the verge of getting behind the Colorado defense. Romero had to be stretchered off the field with an apparent knee injury, and was replaced by Dilly Duka.
Drogba made the most of the opportunity, whipping the ensuing free kick over the Rapids wall and past a diving MacMath, giving the visitors an advantage that they wouldn’t relinquish.
Colorado spent the first half with a distinct possession advantage, and carried that edge into the second half, but struggled to string together passes in the final third, rarely testing Impact goalkeeper Evan Bush.
With the addition of Vicente Sanchez midway through the second half, the Rapids finally found the bite they had craved for much of the match.
Bush came up big in the 62nd minute, getting down to his right to hold a low Powers shot, and again in the 78th minute, after Badji had danced around Impact center back Laurent Ciman at the top of the box.
But Bush saved the best for last, sprawling to claw a long-range Lucas Pittinari effort around his right post in added time to preserve the victory.
Montreal will look to continue form with two remaining regular season games, both against playoff opponents, beginning with next week’s road trip to Gillette Stadium to face the New England Revolution.
With its home season over, Colorado will finish the regular season with back-to-back road trips against Sporting KC (October 21) and Portland.