Sweet Start for Rapids at New Home

COMMERCE CITY CO (By Owen Perkins MLSnet.com) - The Colorado Rapids inhaled deeply Saturday afternoon taking in that new stadium smell of their new home while gulping for oxygen in their aggressive fast-paced victory over D.C. United.

New Rapids midfielder Herculez Gomez and new forward Roberto Brown sparked the club with a pair of goals becoming the fifth and sixth Rapids to score in their first game with the club.

Gomez goes down in the books with the first goal in the history of Dick's Sporting Goods Park a header off a corner kick from Terry Cooke in the 19th minute and he celebrated emphatically sliding to the left corner and pumping up the west stands.

"Everything's going about 1000 miles an hour Gomez said recalling the goal. "I just remember Cookie sending a brilliant ball. It just happened that it dipped and I got on the end of it. I kind of went crazy. Scoring goals is a brilliant feeling. It doesn't happen every day so when they do you got to enjoy it."

The goal offered immediate validation for a key offseason move the trade of goalkeeper Joe Cannon to L.A. for Gomez and defender Ugo Ihemelu.

"We were able to give some opportunities to the players coming in like Herculez Gomez and Roberto Brown to be a big part of this win said head coach Fernando Clavijo. "I'm extremely pleased for that."

For Gomez the opportunities involved switching positions as part of Clavijo's rejuvenated attack.

"He's a very young talented forward who we transferred to midfield Clavijo said of Gomez. "New position he was questioning it at the beginning. He told me right now he will never question me again."

Along with new defender Greg Vanney behind Gomez on the left side the two kept relentless pressure on while moving the ball up the left side and with Terry Cooke connecting with two assists from the right the Rapids were able to maximize the opportunities of playing on the league's largest pitch.

"The field's enormous Gomez said. "We kept moving around we had players in the midfield we got players in the back spray the ball around wide go through the middle. It's going to make teams run. Let's face it nobody likes to run on the pitch chasing a soccer ball. So it's definitely to our advantage."

Part of the challenge in executing the offense was for Clavijo to get the team dynamics up and running against a D.C. United team fresh from a handful of competitive games in the CONCACAF Champions' Cup giving them a running start as they came into Colorado for the opener.

"We had to be sure we did the things that work for us Clavijo said. "We have two outstanding outside midfielders Cookie and Herculez Gomez. We know we have some guys up front that definitely can finish on crosses. We have to connect. We have to get the ball wide. We have to get the ball in the box and we have to have those guys finishing. And that's exactly what happened. We gave some of the midfield to D.C. because that's what they do well but they never really found a way to penetrate."

The Rapids aggressive play earned an early yellow card for center midfielder Kyle Beckerman and Pablo Mastroeni came on for Jovan Kirovski in the 60th minute to keep the pressure on. But even playing with warnings to Beckerman and later defenders Mike Petke and Vanney the Rapids were able to confound United's attempts to pose a threat.

"We know who their main guys are [Jaime] Moreno and [Christian] Gomez Beckerman said. "If you can kind of stuff those guys out not give them the ball in dangerous places as a team they're not as strong as they are when those guys are getting the ball and playing freely so they definitely started to get frustrated when those guys weren't getting in dangerous positions."

The suffering has started as the Rapids work to dominate visitors to Colorado. The spread-out style the balanced distribution of the ball and the aggressive approach to maintaining possession made the most of their new home field but coupled with the bitter cold weather the early-season match taught the Rapids not to take their advantage for granted.

"It was a little difficult today Beckerman said of the offensive fit with the new field and the return to altitude. "It's definitely a factor for both teams. When we're away the week before then it's tough when we're coming in. I'm looking forward to next week because we'll have that two-week period where we'll be able to acclimatize and we've got 90 minutes under our belt already."

As for Clavijo the suffering of a coach agonizing along with his players on the field in a tightly-contested opening match took on its own form.

"I know the players they tackle people they kick when they're upset a relieved Clavijo joked after the match explaining his empathetic reaction to the game from the sidelines. "I'm looking around to kick something but they told me I can't kick anything any more."

He gladly settled for kicking off the season with the Rapids first-ever opening victory kick-starting the new park in commanding fashion and watching his retooled team click on all cylinders as they kicked their MLS Cup quest into gear.

Owen Perkins is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the Colorado Rapids Major League Soccer or its clubs.