Where to start with this one?
Three points. Excellent. It was crucial to maintain momentum off the back of the memorable night in Montreal.
A clean sheet, the first since May 25, which takes the Rapids back to a positive goal difference.
Full Match Highlights
And successive wins, over the top two in the Eastern Conference, is proof that this Rapids side has it within them to compete with some of the best in MLS.
Players to stand out, include Shane O’Neill, Chris Klute and Nathan Sturgis.
The shape and balance of that side against New York Red Bulls went a long way to creating a cohesive unit, and one which rarely gave the visitors a chance.
And I’ll return to a previous issue, which I know some fans still talk about – a designated player. Thursday’s game showed that marquee players do not guarantee success. Top-paid players do not always deliver the goods, as was the case with a mis-firing Thierry Henry and a very average Tim Cahill.
But then, that’s credit to the defense and a dominant midfield – a defense now seemingly returning to some semblance of order, supporting each other and communicating better, as well as being tighter and more organized.
The midfield’s work-rate was noted by MLSsoccer.com after the Montreal game, and again put in a top-notch show on Thursday.
So, to my three stand-outs …
O’Neill has just returned from the U20 World Cup in Turkey. His challenge on Thierry Henry in the first half was as good as it gets. A 19-year-old Homegrown hopeful, getting the better of one of the league’s leading lights.
O'Neill Denies Thierry Henry
For O’Neill, it was a first time playing at right back, and he rarely put a foot wrong. Elsewhere, there was a much greater understanding between Drew Moor and German Mera, whilst Klute again look solid and assured on the left.
Indeed, Klute seems to be getting better and better with every game. His threat down the flanks, intelligent delivery and timing in the tackle should not be underestimated.
And that brings us to the midfield, led by ‘General’ Thomas. His presence, as with that of Edson Buddle, allows others to shine. Both are great professionals, working tirelessly for the team.
Nathan Sturgis has been in MLS since 2006. Prior to joining the Rapids, he’d worn the club jersey of five different teams and managed one goal in 80 games. The label ‘journeyman player’ had been pinned to his chest. Well, he’s started the last 10 games, scoring on four occasions. The faith invested by the Rapids is reaping rewards.
Goal: Sturgis scores game-winner
If I’m going to be picky, then it was a lack of intensity shown by the Rapids in the early stages of the Red Bulls encounter. It was a tepid first 45 minutes, yet when the Rapids stepped up a level after the break, they found the opposition wanting.
The Rapids must set the tempo from the get-go. Sides must not be allowed to settle. Not for the first time this season, it took a re-group at half-time for this team to recognize that – at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park – they’re ‘the Daddy’.
In recent columns, I’ve had the occasional pop at MLS officials, so fair’s fair – I felt Armando Villarreal and his team were in complete control of Thursday’s contest. At just 27-years-old, Villarreal handled himself and the occasion with none of the brash swagger we occasionally see, where the man in the middle mistakenly believes we’re all there to watch him.
Goal: Klute sets up Brown's goal
Mr. Villarreal went about his business. He was consistent, fair and seemed able to properly communicate with players in a calm and dignified manner, taking time to explain his more contentious decisions.
The Rapids next face a DC United side which is having a shocker of a season, and the boys in burgundy must be ruthless in their approach on Sunday. Three wins in a row, to take into their MLS break, is a must if they’re to get back on track.
Without stating the obvious, results in recent days have shown that most in MLS are capable of beating each other, the leading sides will continue to drop points, and – therefore – any team able to put a run together will be in the mix.
Last July, the Rapids lost all six games. This July, let’s win all six games. Oscar Pareja’s players have notched up the first of those, by defeating the Red Bulls, after which MLSsoccer.com’s twitter feed asked: ‘True or false, this Rapids side is the real deal?’
The next few weeks could provide us with the answer …