If the Colorado Rapids fail to qualify for the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Champions League, it will be the first lesson of sports that’s come back to haunt them: You must protect your home turf.
After Wednesday’s 2-0 defeat at the hands of Group B winners Santos Laguna, the Rapids are now dependent on Isidro Metapán and Real España tying Thursday night in a sodden El Salvador. Heavy rains have caused havoc in the Salvadoran domestic league, but the reports are that Thursday night’s game will go on.
While the Rapids did beat Metapán in the opening game of the tournament 3-2 at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, those three points were the only ones they picked up at home. A heavy 4-1 defeat at the hands of Santos Laguna and a disappointing 2-1 loss against Real España were the other two fixtures.
The defeat against Real España was particularly hard to swallow, given a solid performance down in Honduras where the home side only picked up a point in the last few minutes with a late equalizer.
“I think we definitely feel the loss of those two games at home in this competition,” defender Drew Moor told MLSsoccer.com by phone from Torreón after Wednesday's defeat. “Especially in that game against Real España where we nearly got three points at their place. You have to do better in those home games.”
Getting a win Wednesday at Santos, clearly the best team in group B, did in the end prove too much to ask even with los Guerreros resting seven players from the previous weekend.
Rapids head coach Gary Smith said it has been a “big learning curve” playing in the CCL for the first time.
“It’s a bloody difficult competition for all sorts of reasons and we have learned an awful lot,” he told MLSsoccer.com by phone. “In those two games we lost [at home], we were well beaten by Santos and I still believe we did enough in that first period in the game against España. But mistakes costs us dearly and we weren’t able to capitalize with our finishing, a bit like tonight.”
One of the hardest things to deal with in CCL has been the travel. The Rapids only arrived close to midnight in Mexico on Wednesday morning after traveling most of the day, and will have to be up at 4:30 am local time on Thursday morning to make the long haul back to Denver. On Friday, the team will fly up to Vancouver for the final MLS regular-season game on Saturday.
As well as the travel, it’s been a challenge getting used to playing teams with very different styles from opponents in MLS, according to Moor.
“I wouldn’t say these teams are a notch above, but they are a notch different,” Moor said. “They are not your typical MLS side and they play extremely good soccer.”