All four of the Colorado Rapids results to date have hinged on a hint of controversy, or two.
1-1 draw at New York Red Bulls: a questionable penalty awarded for the Rapids equalizer.
2-0 home win over the Portland Timbers: visiting keeper Donovan Ricketts sent off and two penalties awarded to the Rapids.
2-1 win at Vancouver Whitecaps: the Canadian team were 1-0 up and looking comfortable, before Matias Laba was dismissed.
Now, if I had the time then I’d go through each incident one by one and discuss them in detail, arguing for and against. But, to cut a long story short, it’s fair to say there’s been a mixed bag of decisions. Over a season you’d think nothing of it. The fact is, there’s been a whole load of talking points, from incidents which have directly affected the outcome of games, happening in a short space of time.
Laba was silly to grab the ball, even though I felt he was the victim on that occasion. He’d already been booked, and you’re running the risk of the ref reaching for his top pocket for a second time. Instinct kicked in, and his team ultimately paid the price, though it still took two slices of magic from the matador.
José Mari's first effort – up for AT&T MLS Goal of the Week – was about as good a strike as you’ll see this year. Little time to settle, having turned on the ball, he afforded himself little back-lift, before bludgeoning a beauty beyond David Ousted.
His second showed true class. Rather than bash the Brazuca, the Spaniard teasingly side-footed the ball, caressing its curves to silence much of BC Place.
But, as good as José Mari’s left-right combination were at one end, let’s not forget the role that goalkeeper Clint Irwin played at the other. Aside from the one-on-one saves he made in the first half, had he not denied Pedro Morales – who had options either side of him – just moments after Darren Mattocks had given the Whitecaps the lead, then the Rapids will have been nursing a second successive loss in the lead-up to their Toronto trip this coming weekend.
Aside from the Wynne dismissal, I’d admit that the lion’s share of the 50-50 decisions are falling the way of the Rapids … at the moment. But one shouldn’t feel guilty about that. Make the most of it. Wallow in the good times. You create your own luck in sport. Enjoy these spells because – as sure as night follows day – they’ll be times when Lady Luck casts us aside like an old sock and offers her affections to another.
What José Mari showed us in Vancouver was how to be calm and clinical in front of goal. Technique and timing, working as one, produced the desired outcome. Too often the Rapids have lacked that razor sharpness when it matters. Opportunities have gone begging, as we know, particularly against Sporting KC. There were also a couple of decent looks in British Columbia.
I watched on Sunday as the US women’s team huffed and puffed their way to a 2-0 win over China at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. They had 23 shots, as opposed to China’s one. Chances aplenty, many of them golden opportunities, and most of them woefully wasted. Why? Technique. As a player, you can have strength, height, speed and endurance, but you limit the possibilities with a flawed technique.
Take a look at both José Mari goals and enjoy how quickly he adjusts his body, settles himself, spots the opening and strikes the ball sweet and true … one with the left boot and the next with his right. He is 5’11” and 150lbs (when fully clothed and with a bag of groceries in each hand), and yet he stands strong against all-comers. Again, this is due to technique, and impeccable balance as an athlete. He was clearly missed in the Sporting KC loss, and his outrageous goals were the difference on the turf of Vancouver.
And for the media out there, it’s neither José or Mari, rather José Mari – every time. And, after last weekend’s wonder strikes, his name should be on the lips of every soccer fan.