Amarikwa, airtight defense lift Rapids
A year ago to the day, Omar Cummings scored the winner for the Colorado Rapids in a 1-0 road victory against Chivas USA.
This time, Cummings was unavailable for the fixture, busy on international duty with Jamaica. But the result was the same with Quincy Amarikwa taking Cummings’ place both in the starting 11 and on the score sheet.
Cummings’ partner in crime, Conor Casey, was also unable to start for the Rapids. The big center forward was nursing a calf injury, making Saturday the first time in 63 Rapids’ league games that neither Casey nor Cummings had started. Irish international Caleb Folan therefore started alongside Amarikwa, making his MLS debut.
Amarikwa’s 32nd-minute goal was well-taken as he latched onto a perfect through ball from Jamie Smith, beating the offside trap in the process. The young striker did very well to chip on-rushing Chivas 'keeper Zach Thornton, then calmly slotted into the empty net.
Smith said he was delighted with the Folan-Amarikwa partnership.
“Both the guys performed very well,” Rapids head coach Gary Smith told MLSsoccer.com after the game. “Quincy took his goal very well and showed a lot of composure and they were both a real threat for their back four. And then Conor came on and performed admirably.”
For most of the rest of the game, however, it was largely backs-to-the-wall stuff from the Rapids. Drew Moor was his usual commanding and reliable self in the heart of the defense and repelled everything thrown at him. The back four plus 'keeper Matt Pickens were solid all game long.
“It ain’t always champagne football,” Smith said. “They threw the kitchen sink at us and we showed qualities that we didn’t need last week.”
But it wasn’t just the defense who showed the commitment necessary to protect a fragile 1-0 lead. Jamie Smith, who was the focus for much of the creativity shown by the Rapids, was also a dervish defensively.
Wells Thompson, who came on for Amarikwa with just less than 30 minutes left, did yeoman’s work as well. Even Casey, who got the last few minutes in place of a winded Folan, contributed. The big man did what he does best, holding the ball up for a sustained period and winning an unlikely corner to almost kill off the game.
Smith’s words were echoed by Thompson, who tweeted:
“Games ain’t always perdy (sic), but that was a good grinding effort by everyone 4 the win.”
At times, especially in the first half, it was frenetic stuff until the goal finally settled things down for Colorado. As expected, Chivas USA came out strong in the second half and had much of the possession in the second 45 minutes but, in reality, failed to make many chances. Their most dangerous shot was palmed onto the crossbar by Pickens in the 55th minute off an Anthony Wallace deflection.
A minute earlier, the Rapids had a shot controversially cleared off the line by the outstretched hand of Michael Lahoud. Jeff Larentowicz, the player whose shot hit Lahoud after a great flick from Folan, was understandably annoyed with the referee’s failure to call a penalty. Especially when the Rapids’ midfielder was later called for a handball after a Chivas player smashed the ball into his chest area.
“I don’t think there is ever an easy game away at this time of the season and the mentality of these players gives them not just the results but the rewards that they get,” Smith said. “There was a tremendous amount of discipline and everyone was focused on the result.”
The Rapids return to Colorado Sunday for a very brief respite before some of the team head back out to Chicago for a US Open Cup play-in game on March 30. Their next MLS league game is at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park against D.C. United on April 3. The Rapids head into that game 2-0 for the first time in their history.