It was always going to be tough, heading to Portland without three players through suspension (Vicente Sánchez, Shane O’Neill and Nick LaBrocca) and two due to injury (José Mari and Edson Buddle). The Rapids’ challenge was made even tougher when leading striker Deshorn Brown hobbled off midway through the first half.
And so, maybe it’s difficult to be too critical of Friday’s result, bearing in mind the players not available to head coach Pablo Mastroeni. What I will say, though, is more of a general point, and that is if the Colorado Rapids are to continue their push for the playoffs then road results must improve. Two points from a possible 18 will simply not cut the mustard, and also creates greater pressure for home games.
The Rapids collected their last road win at Toronto FC on April 12. Take out that victory, and the one enjoyed a week earlier at Vancouver, and the Rapids have picked up only three points from seven games away from Dick's Sporting Goods Park.
For those with their cup half full, the side is currently averaging a point per game on the road, but it's the recent results which are under scrutiny and they don't make for good reading.
Players past and present tell me of the rigors of MLS, and how - with the travel, conditions and surfaces involved - road games are notoriously tough to win. Unfortunately, the upcoming road games do not get much easier - on New England's turf, before trips to FC Dallas, Eastern Conference high-fliers DC United, Western Conference front-runners Seattle and then to LA Galaxy.
Against the Portland Timbers the side stood strong defensively until the 72nd minute, in an intimidating atmosphere and against a side that had been kept off the score sheet just the once this season at Providence Park.
The Rapids enjoyed spells where they moved the ball well and – indeed – carved out opportunities, most notably a nudge just wide from Carlos Alvarez.
“When you’re forced to make quick changes, early changes in games, it obviously disrupts the flow,” head coach Pablo Mastroeni said afterwards.
“But having said that, we had chances to go up two, we had chances to go up 2-1, we had chances to tie it. So tonight just wasn’t the night, but again the effort was tremendous and we just have to prepare for the next game.”
The Rapids skipper, Drew Moor, also mentioned the ‘e’ word in his post-match comments.
“I’m disappointed that we come away with nothing,” he said. “You can’t talk enough about the effort and the battle our boys put into it. We got beat at the end of the day by a world-class goal by Valeri.”
Great effort is only one ingredient for success. That pretty much applies to most things in life. You also need other certain qualities. My point being that, although effort and desire from the Rapids can never be questioned, sometimes it’s just not enough.
To be fair, there was little the side could do for the wonderful winner from Diego Valeri, save maybe close him down a bit quicker, but sometimes you just have to accept that you were undone by a moment of quality. And maybe that was the difference on Friday night … quality in the final third. The loss of Brown to a right groin strain undoubtedly had an impact on the Rapids’ offensive threat. His speed alone forces opposing teams to set themselves up differently.
Also, controlling the tempo and flow of a game – as the Rapids were able to do in fits and starts – is worthless unless you’re able to reward the good work with a goal. Plenty of effort has to be harnessed with a cutting edge, and that’s what the Rapids lacked in Portland.
One aspect which stood out for me from Friday’s game was how much Mastroeni truly cares for his players. When Dillon Powers, a player who has a history with concussion, took the ball full in the face it was apparent that Mastroeni’s primary concern was for the well-being of his young midfielder.
The Rapids’ head coach has himself battled the debilitating effects of concussion, and appeared ready to pull Powers from the contest. After the debacle of the World Cup final, with clearly concussed players being allowed to continue, it spoke volumes for the responsible approach of many within MLS, alert to the real danger of this particular injury.