COMMERCE CITY, Colo.- He’d been wearing a Colorado Rapids uniform for all of about 90 seconds, but new defender Zat Knight immediately started barking orders to his teammates during the second half of Colorado's 4-1 loss to the Seattle Sounders on Sunday afternoon.
After coming on as a halftime substitute at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, the 34-year-old English Premier League veteran could not resurrect a 3-1 halftime deficit, but he did fill a gaping leadership void along the back line, drawing unsolicited praise from Rapids head coach Pablo Mastroeni after the game.
“Zat brought a bit of calm and a bit of experience to the group, and that was pretty evident with the way things went,” Mastroeni said on Sunday. “But when you’re down 3-1, it’s too late for that. So how do you rebound with the right mindset?”
When captain Drew Moor went down with a season-ending ACL tear in August, the Rapids’ defensive woes began to spiral out of control, as they proceeded to allow an average of 3.2 goals per game in the next six matches that preceded Sunday’s loss. Mastroeni has frequently blamed a lack of leadership as a reason for the shoddy defensive work, and Knight, a captain at Bolton Wanderers in the English Championship during his last stop, was signed last month to help shore up some of those defensive ailments.
After a delay due to visa paperwork, Knight finally made his debut, and while the Rapids’ defense got beat more than a handful of times during his 45 minutes on the field, the defense appeared more organized and an overall improvement over the brutal opening 45, in which Colorado conceded three times.
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“It definitely helped a lot; you could see we were just a lot more organized,” Rapids goalkeeper Clint Irwin said of Knight's stint on the field. “He was talking to everyone around him, keeping them in good spots, and at the same time playing well. He made a huge difference as soon as he came on.”
While the Rapids were officially eliminated from postseason contention on Sunday, Knight, who does not have a guaranteed contract for 2015, showed that he may be able to make a difference along the back line.
“It comes natural to me,” Knight said of being vocal on the field. “I’m experienced, and I’ve learned as a defender you have to be vocal. Being 6-foot-6, it would be a shame if I never spoke.”
Chris Bianchi covers the Colorado Rapids for MLSsoccer.com.