The substitute Espino's 35-yard missile appeared to deflect off the back of a Colorado defender and wrongfoot goalkeeper William Yarbrough on its way to deciding a cagey affair at the Estadio Nacional Mateo Flores.
That was enough to give the Guatemalan titans an enviable advantage heading into the return leg next Wednesday at Dick's Sporting Goods Park. Without an away goal, the Rapids must win by multiple goals to advance after full time of Leg 2. A 1-0 Rapids win in Colorado would send proceedings to extra time and potentially penalty kicks.
Espino's goal came somewhat against the run of second-half play as Colorado grew into the game, particularly following the introduction of Michael Barrios and Bryan Acosta just before the hour-mark. U22 Initiative signing Max Alves also entered later to make his Rapids competitive debut.
But the visitors could have no real complaints on a night they failed to put an effort on target, even if Espino's speculative effort was just the second for the hosts.
- 89' - COM - Karel Espino | WATCH
- THE BIG PICTURE: This isn't a great result for the Rapids, but it's also not an insurmountable one if last year's home MLS form is any indication. The Rapids won seven of their 17 league fixtures by multiple goals in 2021. But this is not a familiar frontier for Colorado, who have only qualified for continental competition four times in their history, and failed to advance beyond the phase it entered three previous times.
- MOMENT OF THE MATCH: On an evening that for long stretches felt destined for a scoreless draw, Espino had the nerve to come off the bench with other ideas.
- MAN OF THE MATCH: Comunicaciones' Kevin Lopez was the player most consistently showing up in dangerous positions over his 85-minute shift, although he could've been a bit more composed at times with his final touch.
- Leg 2: Wednesday, Feb. 23 at Dick's Sporting Goods Park (8:15 pm ET | FS2, TUDN)