COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – It wasn’t the result the Colorado Rapids needed or wanted, but Tuesday night’s performance in a 2-0 home defeat to Toronto FC in the first leg of their 2018 CONCACAF Champions League Round of 16 series gave debutant coach Anthony Hudson reasons for optimism.
“What I do is, I come away from this feeling very positive about where we’re at today,” Hudson said. “The first three and a half weeks spent with a new team has been spent working on the foundation of the team and getting things organized. We’re just scratching the surface of where we’re at.”
Colorado debuted Hudson’s base 5-3-2 formation along with six new players in the starting XI: forward Jack McBean, midfielders Jack Price and Enzo Martinez and defenders Deklan Wynne, Tommy Smith and Edgar Castillo.
“I think you could see at times it was gelling, but we’ve still got work to do,” said Price, who signed from English Championship side Wolverhampton this offseason. “But it’s coming together. We’ve got close to 12 new players and six new starters. Like I said, it’ll come together.”
In his Rapids debut, Price did well to connect passes in the central midfield in addition to serving as the team’s primary taker of corner kicks.
Perhaps more impressive was Martinez. Signed earlier this week, he returns to MLS after being originally drafted by Rocky Mountain Cup rivals Real Salt Lake in 2012. After a successful stint in the USL with Rapids affiliate Charlotte Independence, Martinez has impressed enough in the preseason to have earned starter’s minutes.
“Coach was in communication with me a lot and told me, ‘Do you want to be part of this?’ I said, without hesitation, ‘Yes, I would love to,’” he said.
On Tuesday night, the Uruguyan nearly produced a goal in the fourth minute, his shot sailing just over the bar.
“Obviously, the shot didn’t go in, so it’s as good as a shot that bounces off the crossbar or one that misses by 50 feet,” chuckled Martinez.
Defensively, Colorado looked organized in the first half, benefitting from Smith's veteran presence, which he also offered as captain of the Hudson-led New Zealand National Team.
“It’s a credit to the players,” Hudson said. “They weren’t afraid of such a big team at this stage. I thought the organization of the team was very strong. The first half, as good as it was, I think we could’ve done a lot better.”
Unfortunately for Colorado, that solid first half start fell apart with two second half goals conceded. Hudson pondered whether to make substitutions and push for a possible win or draw, but instead opted to go “big picture” by giving his starters an opportunity to build fitness and go the full 90 minutes.
Despite being down 2-0 on aggregate, some optimism remains in the Rapids camp for next week's return leg in Toronto.
“Obviously, we wanted to take something into the next game, whether that was a win or a goalless draw,” Smith said. “But you never say die in football. You never know what might happen next week.”