COMMERCE CITY, Colo. — No matter how motivated the Colorado Rapids went into the match, they were just overpowered by a deadly Santos Laguna, who made the home side pay once and again en route to a comfortable 4-1 win in CONCACAF Champions League play on Tuesday.
“We were taken apart,” Rapids midfielder Brian Mullan, who scored his team’s only goal of the night in the 77th minute, put it simply.
Maybe it was because, as Mullan said, first-time CCL participants Colorado just aren’t used to playing Mexican teams and might have been surprised by the quality Santos showed.
But whatever the reason, defender Drew Moor and head coach Gary Smith made no excuses for the defeat, instead choosing to give credit where credit is due.
“[Santos] had quality on the ball. They possessed it well, they made us chase it,” Moor said after the game. “You can’t give up early goals, but I have to credit them.”
“They deserve enormous credit for the quality of their play,” Smith said. “They had a lot of ability in front of goal and some very positive finishing.”
After garnering just three points from two CCL matches, Santos put out a stronger side than they had previously done and played with the confidence befitting a strong starting XI.
“This was by far the strongest team they have put out,” said Smith. “The big difference was their confidence in playing from the back and navigating the pressure in the midfield area.”
As well as some defensive errors in the first half that helped Santos surge to a 2-0 lead, the Rapids were not strong enough going forward.
“We were on the back foot early,” Moor said. “Defensively, we weren’t strong enough in the first half and we lacked the quality we usually have in the final third.”
Omar Cummings and Sanna Nyassi, usually dangerous up top, found themselves in good positions against Santos but were simply unable to finish or provide a decent pass for someone else to find the net.
“Omar got himself into some really encouraging spots but on most occasions failed to hit the target,” Smith said. “Sanna and Omar looked bright, but the final cross or pass or choice of finish was just not there tonight.”
The Rapids, who tumbled to third place in Group B, two points behind new leaders Santos and Metapán, will have the chance to make up some ground when they face Honduran side Real España at home on Sept. 21 before closing out the group stage with trips to El Salvador and Mexico.
“There may be more pressure on the road games now, but the first port of call will be beating [Real] España here,” Smith said.