Colorado players and coaching staff said they hadn’t paid much attention to the Kansas City Wizards' result earlier in the day on Saturday, which qualified the Rapids for the postseason even before kickoff against the LA Galaxy.
Whether you believe them or not, the fact is they played the Galaxy as if they were fighting for their playoff lives.
WATCH HIGHLIGHTS: LA 1, COL 3
Despite going down a goal early on the road, the Rapids fought back to control a difficult game with tenacity and skill against a team that has essentially led the league all season.
Some commentators even suggested that the 3-1 come-from-behind win was a franchise-changing event. It was the first time in more than four years the team has rallied back to win.
In his postgame comments, Galaxy captain Landon Donovan pointed to the fact that a lucky break for the Rapids changed the nature of the match. LA had dominated the opening exchanges, and David Beckham looked dangerous every time he had the ball.
The Galaxy scored with their own slice of good fortune in this period as Edson Buddle enjoyed a deflection off Drew Moor to send his shot over a helpless Matt Pickens in the ninth minute. But the Rapids had their own luck when Jamie Smith's well-struck corner panicked the LA defense before Sean Franklin’s clearance hammered off Buddle and into the Galaxy net.
[inline_node:321109]“The goal changed our mentality,” Rapids head coach Gary Smith told MLSsoccer.com after the game.
That may be true, but this Rapids team appears to have the right blend of personnel that doesn’t buckle as easily as those of recent years. It was, therefore, no surprise the Rapids rallied the way they did.
For once, no more packing up the bags and going home after conceding an early goal on the road.
Perhaps this is no more evident than in the center of midfield, where a revitalized Pablo Mastroeni — so long the leader of this team — appears to be enjoying his partnership with Jeff Larentowicz so much so that some say he is playing the best club soccer of his life.
At last, the 34-year-old veteran has an equal next to him in terms of leadership on the field, and the two have been a vital pairing for the Rapids all season. And Colorado's second goal on Saturday proved that, as well as the tenacity of the team as a whole.
Following a struggle for the ball in the center of the field, the referee seemed ready to blow his whistle for a foul. Instead, Larentowicz and Mastroeni would not give up the ball. Larentowicz won it eventually, and Mastroeni slipped the ensuing loose ball into the streaking Omar Cummings’ path.
The speedster outran the LA defense and crashed a ball across goal where a well-placed Conor Casey calmly slotted it, left-footed, into the top of the net. Tenacity, speed and skill combined to score a thrilling goal.
Smith said the team's ability to turn defense into attack was crucial on the night — and not only on that second goal.
“There were three or four occasions where we won the ball in the midfield area and created some nice chances," the Rapids coach said.
From that second goal on, apart from the last 10 minutes or so — when the Galaxy pummeled the Colorado goal in a desperate attempt to fight their way back into the game — the Rapids controlled the game and neutered Beckham’s danger on the flanks.
Cummings added a crucial third goal following clever interplay between him and Casey in the 67th minute.
The Rapids will now focus on the Rocky Mountain Cup matchup against Real Salt Lake this coming Saturday. If they win that match, not only will the cup will be theirs, but also they'll eliminate their bitter rivals' chances at hoisting the Supporters' Shield.