CCL: Content to go home with road point

Rapids find reason to celebrate following tough draw at Real Espana

Scott Palguta probably wouldn’t have chosen to spend his 29th birthday in stifling heat of Honduras developing leg cramps, but he’ll take it. Neither he nor the rest of the Rapids were unhappy with picking up a point in the team’s first ever CONCACAF Champions League game in a foreign country, ending the night with a 1-1 draw at Real España.

The hosts had to wait until the 88th minute for their equalizer, which came through Julio Rodríguez. Jeff Larentowicz had scored for the Rapids at the end of first-half stoppage time. The result means the Rapids have four points from their first two CCL games, good for top of the group.

“I think when we all wake up tomorrow, we will realize we are still undefeated,” Palguta told MLSsoccer.com by phone after the match. “But the consensus is that maybe we should have won the game.”

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Palguta, who has been a bench regular all season, got a rare start in central defense. He played alongside Mike Holody, who was starting for the first time this year.

The two are regular partners in the Rapids’ reserve team and formed a defensive backbone — along with Danny Earls and goalkeeper Steward Ceus — that was short on experience playing together or, really, playing much in general this season. Kosuke Kimura was the only member of the starting defense who has been a regular starter this year.

They found themselves under a lot of pressure in the second half as La Máquina pushed for the equalizer and almost pinched the victory late when Ceus was forced to parry a Jairo Puerto shot.

“I think we may have conceded a little bit too much and there were probably opportunities to play the game out better, but the conditions were rough and it was a tough ask to get any sort of result,” Palguta said.

Head coach Gary Smith said he was delighted with the point considering the arduous journey to get to Honduras, the relative inexperience of his side and the hostile conditions.

“It was a very different game than the one at the weekend,” he told MLSsoccer.com, differentiating Tuesday’s draw from last Saturday’s 2-2 tie vs. Chivas USA at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. “We may be a bit disappointed about how the goal came about, but there were some tired legs out there and some terrific displays. The last 10 minutes was backs-to-the-wall stuff, but the lads showed determination and spirit in truckloads.”

Apart from the heat and humidity, Palguta admitted he had various projectiles thrown at him when he went close to the touchline. The hardest thing to deal with, though, was the playing surface.

“It was all pretty difficult but the worst part was the field itself,” he said. “It was really spongy and it felt like you were running on quicksand.”

The defender was forced to leave the game in the 69th minute when a hamstring cramped up. Ceus was also suffering from cramps in the second half.

There’s not much time for rest for the Rapids players, as they’re due to check out of their San Pedro Sula hotel at 4:30 am local time Wednesday morning. Probably something else Palguta wasn’t exactly planning on for his birthday festivities.

But with a point on the road, there’s at least some cause for celebration.

“Maybe a quick meal at the hotel and a beer,” Palguta said of the postgame plans. “It will be after midnight before any of us will be able to get to bed.”