The talk of squad rotation and depth was beginning to sound a little hollow in Colorado as the Rapids have stumbled recently towards the postseason with a series of lackluster performances and disappointing results.
Wednesday night in El Salvador may have changed all that as the reigning MLS Cup champions ran out to a 3-1 victory over CONCACAF Champions League opponents Isidro Metapán.
“We came here with a squad of great players,” Quincy Amarikwa, scorer of the second crucial goal, said postgame. “A lot of people wrote us off, but we are a deep squad and very proud of what we were able to come in and do.”
Despite Amarikwa’s words, the starting XI the Rapids put on the field in El Salvador could hardly have inspired confidence at the outset. Rookie Eddie Ababio was making his professional debut, defenders Mike Holody and Danny Earls have only three MLS starts between them this season, and Amarikwa has started in five MLS games this year and none since June 26 against the Columbus Crew.
Apart from Omar Cummings and Macoumba Kandji, the bench was equally as green. Josh Janniere, Steven Emory, Davy Armstrong and backup goalkeeper Ian Joyce have one MLS start between them in their pro career.
Inexperience aside, the Rapids had to cope with a six-hour round trip between their hotel, two long flights to get to El Salvador and the fortress-like Estadio Jorge Calero Suárez, where Metapán had yet to lose in CCL play.
The Rapids overcame it all, and now travel back to Denver for a Saturday match against FC Dallas, the team they faced in last year’s MLS Cup final.
“It’s beautiful,” Ababio said. “We did this and got some momentum. ... It’s good for the team and everyone.”
Assistant coach Steve Guppy, who was acting as manager in the absence of head coach Gary Smith on Wednesday, called the victory “historic” and “remarkable.” And perhaps most importantly, he said that the victory would help the team deal with the struggles that had befallen them recently.
“Obviously, we’re desperate to do well in [CCL], but we’re also desperate to defend the MLS Cup as well,” Guppy said. “It’s a team effort. We got the job done, and now we get ourselves back somehow ... and then we go again against Dallas on the weekend.”