Colorado Rapids youth movement advances, but with same result in loss to Impact

COMMERCE CITY, Colo.—In the Colorado Rapids’ final home game of the 2015 season, the fans at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park were once again witness to an all-too-familiar sight: the Rapids falling in defeat – for the eighth time at home this year – despite controlling shots, crosses and possession in Saturday’s match against the Montreal Impact.

“It was like a lot of the games we’ve played this year,” said Rapids head coach Pablo Mastroeni. “We were the best team on the field, but it’s about goals. We’ve given up very little to very dynamic teams throughout the year. You’ve got to make something happen with that.”

Saturday’s match was about one goal in particular: Didier Drogba’s 15th minute free kick strike, which proved to be the deciding factor between the two sides.

“It was one moment, one set piece that defined this game,” Mastroeni said. “[Drogba] is a world class player. When he’s anywhere around goal, he’s one of the most prolific strikers in the world, still.”

Yet, aside from a late 1-on-1 opportunity by the Ivorian in the 63rd minute, broken up by Sean St. Ledger, the Rapids indeed conceded little to Montreal from the run of play. Mastroeni credited the improved defensive showing to the performance of Axel Sjoberg.

“I think Axel [Sjoberg] did a fantastic job,” Mastroeni said. “He did a pretty good job to body [Drogba] up. From the beginning, he imposed himself from a physical perspective. Axel really earned some stripes tonight.”

The rookie was one of numerous youngsters featured in Colorado’s lineup on Saturday, with St. Ledger and Drew Moor the only players older than 30 in the starting XI. Marlon Hairston, 22, and 'keeper Zac MacMath, 24, made their regular-season debuts within Colorado’s defense.

“I was excited to get my first league start of the season, but obviously it didn’t go the way we wanted it to,” MacMath said. “Every game is tough, every team has a difficult player, maybe not necessarily at Drogba’s level, but you’ve got to go out there and do your best.”

Hairston was likewise excited, though disappointed at the result.

“Five-to-ten years ago, I never would have imagined being on the same field as [Drogba]," he said. "It was a great and humbling experience tonight. I still think we put in a great performance tonight, we just found ourselves on the wrong side of another result. All of the fans here deserve better.”

With two games remaining, the Rapids will look to find a balance between evaluating youth and finishing the season with positive results.

“The idea is to win the games," Mastroeni said. "It’s not just to see where we’re at. You want some sort of stability. We’ll continue to look at it. Obviously we’ve had a few guys away on international duty. How we integrate those guys back into the group, we’ll see. We have 10 days to figure that out.”