Set pieces can be learnt, as can tactics. You can also greatly improve your fitness and skill by putting in the hard yards.
There’s one thing which can’t be coached, but it will certainly be needed over the final six regular-season games, and that is desire.
I referred to some of the Rapids defending, in the dying moments in LA, as ‘desperate’. And it was.
You wanted a burgundy jersey to bring down the ball, before calmly and serenely stroking it into the path of a teammate on a forward trajectory. When this did happen, the Galaxy often grabbed back possession and piled forward once again, seeking parity.
Full Match Highlights
You were willing a clean cleat to be put through the ball, to gain considerable yardage. Too often it was hurriedly mis-cued and gobbled up by the Galaxy.
Yes, some of the defending late on was frantic and desperate, but there was no shortage of desire. It was messy and scrappy, but the Rapids rolled up their sleeves and slugged this one out.
They had snatched the lead courtesy of a wonderful strike from Edson Buddle and were in no mood to relinquish that glorious advantage. Every bit of body which could be legally used to block the Galaxy’s late charge was being used to full effect.
When you’re 15 points clear of the pack and guaranteed a playoff place, then one is afforded the luxury of nit-picking performances. The Rapids are not in that lofty position. They’re in thick of the mix, happy to smash ‘n’ grab as they fight for every point in this ever-changing challenge.
This is why I’m not going to write on the wrongs of this oft beautiful game, rather highlight some of the stand-outs.
‘Newcomer of the Year’ contender recorded his tenth shutout of the season, his first in MLS. It equals the club record for shutouts in a single season, set by Joe Cannon in 2004. Irwin achieved double digits in shutouts with a series of scintillating saves, the pick of which was a finger-tip glance onto the underside of the crossbar from a close-range Marcelo Sarvas drive.
Edson Buddle & Clint Irwin Post-Game
The recent super-sub started against his former club, having netted when coming off the bench in his previous two outings, and continued his great run of form with the only goal of the game. It was struck so sweetly that I doubt Galaxy first-choice Jaime Penedo would’ve got anywhere near it – had he been stood alongside the deputizing Brian Rowe! Three in three for Buddle.
‘Busy, busy, busy. Got the ball, gotta get forward. Gotta hurt the opposition.’ Stylish, smart and cunning, this is a guy who wants the ball, because he’s confident he can do good things with it at his feet. When he had possession, I found myself rising from my seat ever-so slightly, expecting something to happen. Made the goal for Buddle, which made the difference. Sanchez adds an exciting dimension to the Rapids.
His ability to read the game continues to impress. His anticipation is first class, and his timing, strength and determination make him a difficult man to get the better of. He is getting better with every minute, and was part of a defense which denied the Galaxy a goal on their home soil for the first time since June 19.
The Rapids have six regular-season games remaining, starting with the visit of FC Dallas to Dick’s Sporting Goods Park this Saturday (TICKETS). Oscar Pareja’s side has gleaned just one point from the previous two meetings with the Texas team, but will expect the maximum at the weekend.
There’s no reason why the Rapids cannot reach the playoffs, and create more history along the way. After all, they’ve taken five points (and the Subaru Rocky Mountain Cup) from Western Conference leaders Real Salt Lake. Saturday’s success means they’ve now taken six points from back-to-back MLS Cup winners LA Galaxy, plus they’ve conquered the top two in the Eastern Conference, Montreal Impact and New York Red Bulls.
They should fear no-one.
The Rapids currently sit on 42 points, with a possible 18 up for grabs. Never has this club hit the 50 point mark. (The most they’ve previously managed in a 34-game season is 49, in 2011). The half century is certainly within reach.
I return to my opening salvo, and the subject of desire. This set of players are no fools. They know the start at Sporting KC cost them. In LA they set about trying to get at the opposition from the get-go, and it ultimately worked.
They learn from their mistakes.
Question the team tactics by all means, or even the ability of individuals, but don’t ever doubt the desire of this bunch of players … or the hunger … or the heart … or the determination. These qualities shone through on Saturday, and will continue to shine brightly in the coming weeks …