I’m heading out on a limb here, and suggesting Saturday’s 1-0 home loss to Real Salt Lake – an outcome which gifted the Rocky Mountain Cup back to RSL – will have hurt Rapids fans more than any of the other seven losses this season.
And they have every right to be hurt, upset and bitterly disappointed. Not only did their team fall short against a side forced to play most of the second period with ten men, sliding six points behind their neighbors but – in failing to score – they afforded Nick Rimando a record-equaling 112th MLS shutout. Unfortunately, the RSL keeper was not made to work too hard for this one. Aside from the Deshorn Brown's stinging shot late on, Rimando’s work-load was pretty light.
This match took me back to the US Open Cup loss to eight-man Atlanta Silverbacks, and the stalemate at home to San Jose Earthquakes. Two teams which put bodies behind the ball and challenged the Rapids to try and pick their way through.
That’s exactly what Real Salt Lake did on Saturday, particularly after Aaron Maund was rightly sent off for bringing down Vicente Sánchez. They placed a wall of white between the Rapids and Rimando, and the home team had a real problem finding a way to goal. For me, RSL defender Nat Borchers was a beast, and my 'man-of-the-match'.
It didn’t help that the Rapids gave away a soft goal, after which they were chasing the game. Yes, they had 65% of the possession, but only because Real Salt Lake were sitting deep and keeping the Rapids at arm’s length, while blocking all channels to goal.
I accept that the Rapids were the team most likely to score in the second half, but they were already a goal down, and a man up. They were playing with more urgency, because the situation demanded it and they had the man advantage, but as skipper Drew Moor said afterwards: “This is one of those where you can’t wait to get punched in the mouth before you start going.”
The Rapids were the home team. They were the ones, as you say, ‘behind the 8-ball’ having lost the first meeting between the two teams. And yet, as Moor admits, they only sparked into life once they’d gone behind. A similar tale emerged from the 2-1 loss at Rio Tinto Stadium in May. The Rapids sprang into action, and had a real purpose … only when Javier Morales had converted a controversial penalty to make it 2-0 to the home side.
And this was the case at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. It took a Morales goal after 14 minutes to jolt the Rapids and remind them that they were involved in a contest. After RSL had snatched the lead, they were forced back on their heels, as the Rapids push for the equalizer.
Brown had the two best efforts, one in each half, with the rest resorting to trying to test Rimando from distance. Those efforts didn’t really cause the RSL keeper too many problems.
With 12 games to go in the regular season, the Rapids now lie fifth in the Western Conference, though both Vancouver Whitecaps and San Jose Earthquakes could overtake them if they win their games in hand.
In the 12 home games to date, the Rapids have won just six, collecting 21 of a possible 36 points at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. This is stating the obvious, but I’ll say it anyway. Home form needs to improve. The main reason for this is because road form has been poor, placing even greater emphasis on avoiding slip-ups in Commerce City.
Two wins from ten away games, the last of which was almost four months ago, suggests the next few weeks may just make or break the season. Let’s not ignore the elephant in the room. A place in the playoffs may very well be determined by how well the side does away from home, which means going to Dallas, DC, Seattle, LA, Salt Lake and Vancouver and adding to that tally of triumphs.
I’m not springing any surprises on anyone. The coaches know this. The players know it. And so, too, do the fans. Consistency remains a big concern. Erratic performances have been producing erratic results. Again, this not something which will be unknown to anybody, but let’s just be up front.
No-one can be satisfied with losing at home to your rivals. No-one will have enjoyed watching Kyle Beckerman pass the Rocky Mountain Cup into the visiting fans’ enclosure, and stride off nonchalantly to the locker room. No-one will have wandered into work on Monday morning able to shake off the image of the RSL players dancing and hugging in the middle of our field.
But let’s use that hurt, and channel it. If that’s the spark which fires the Rapids for the final 12 games, then it may have been a price worth paying.