COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – The alarm bells sounded after the Colorado Rapids’ 3-3 draw with the Philadelphia Union just a few weeks ago. Something was amiss with the defense.
Fresh off allowing three goals and looking more than shaky in a 1-1 home draw with the Columbus Crew a week prior, along with allowing two bad goals against the Atlanta Silverbacks in US Open Cup play two weeks before that, it became clear recently that the backline had to shape up in order for the Rapids to turn a corner.
So far, the defense has responded. The last two weeks have seen a big defensive change, helping Colorado lock down a convincing 3-0 win over Chivas USA on Friday night. Sure, the Rapids allowed two goals the week prior in a 2-1 loss at Portland, but the Timbers scored two terrific goals that led head coach Pablo Mastroeni to simply “tip his cap” at the opposition.
All in all, the defense seems to be coming around at the right time, much to Mastroeni’s pleasing.
“I’ve been saying all year, if you’re good defensively, you’re going to get good attacking opportunities,” Mastroeni said of his defense after Friday's win. “I think we relished those moments in the first half going forward, and could have had a few more. But again, the defensive effort, the mindset, the mentality – it was spot on tonight.”
Defensive consistency has been a primary on-field focus of Mastroeni’s in his first year in charge at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. Set-piece defending, primarily a strength for the Rapids this season, became somewhat unglued when the Rapids allowed a goal off a corner in the Philadelphia loss.
Concentration lapses and communication issues appeared to be at fault for a large number of the Rapids’ defensive woes over the last month as well, but now, the league leaders in shutouts (nine) appear to have their defensive swagger back.
Center back and team captain Drew Moor explained why he thought the improvements came about, citing the ability to avoid coughing up the ball in bad positions.
“One thing that we’ve really stressed the last couple weeks is to not lose possession in dangerous spots,” said the Rapids captain, who scored a goal against Chivas USA. “Don’t mess around with it in the back, in our defensive half. If we have to play ugly sometimes and put it up into their half and go play in there, that’s fine.
"We’ve really tried to limit those turnovers where they’re coming at us in transition, with numbers up or whatever the case may be.”
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The defensive improvements were on full display on Friday night. Star Chivas USA striker Erick “Cubo” Torres hardly sniffed possession, let alone a goal, on Friday night as he was hounded every time he got near the ball and Chivas as a whole barely managed a chance the entire match.
Now, the key for the Rapids is keeping the defense in line as the summer wears on.
“I think even in Portland we stayed pretty organized defensively,” Moor said, summing up the defensive performance over the last two weeks. “Obviously we had a couple breakdowns at the end of that game, but collectively, as a whole from the front all the way back to Clint [Irwin], I just thought we were organized and we communicated well. I can’t think of too many shots Chivas really had.”
Chris Bianchi covers the Colorado Rapids for MLSsoccer.com.