As Rapids winger Joshua Gatt charged in to the attacking third on Wednesday night, leaving two Galaxy defenders in his wake, Dillon Serna suddenly found himself in acres of space just inside the visitors' 18-yard-box. Calling for the ball and pointing to where he wanted it, he sensed the opportunity at hand.
After a slight touch from teammate Dominique Badji, Gatt’s pass found Serna, who stepped up and confidently drove a beautiful left-footed curling effort past the Galaxy keeper, and in to the back of the net.
The 14,000-plus fans inside Dick's Sporting Goods Park stood and cheered. Rapids head coach Pablo Mastroeni pumped his fists on the sidelines and slapped hands with his assistants. Smiling teammates sprinted towards Serna, and Richard Fleming, the team’s play-by-play announcer, poignantly summed up the moment from the broadcast booth, declaring in to his microphone, “He’s back!”
While the Rapids would eventually find themselves on the wrong side of the final scoreline, it was a special night for Serna, who almost a full year prior suffered a torn ACL and lateral meniscus in his right knee during a June 29th, 2016, US Open Cup match against FC Dallas.
For Serna, the road back was long and arduous: the injury, the pain, the surgery, the slow-but-steady rehab, the training tables and the constant contact with team doctors.
The hard work - as it so often does - eventually paid off though for the 23-year-old Colorado native, who returned to the pitch just eight-months after the original injury to play the final 11 minutes of a 1-0 win over New England Revolution on March 4th of this year.
Yet finding full recovery from a major knee injury is a lengthy process and it wasn’t until Wednesday night’s league match against the Galaxy, under a beautiful Colorado skyline, that Serna found his way back in to the starting line-up.
Mastroeni’s decision to insert Serna back in to the starting 11 was immediately vindicated. His 17th-minute turn-and-strike threatened to blow the game wide open and served as a shot across the bow for the Galaxy defense. Despite the warning signs, however; the LA back four was helpless in the latt stages of the first half as Serna’s shot slammed in to the back of the net, to the joy of Rapids fans everywhere.
“Serna had a very good performance,” said Mastroeni after the match. “I think him and Gatt were both bright spots... [Dillon] has been waiting on an opportunity, working hard and tonight he showed his level on both sides of the ball. Offensively, he brought players into the game, put in a couple good balls, took some good shots, and obviously scored a fantastic goal.”
Despite earning man of the match honors, Serna himself was more subdued following the final whistle, focusing not on his individual accomplishment but his teammates and the upcoming match against Atlanta instead.
"We can’t let this happen again,” said Serna of the loss. “We’ll have a fire under us and we’ll go to Atlanta looking to bounce back and get three points.”
Saturday’s match kicks-off at 5:00 p.m. MT (Altitude) at Bobby Dodd Stadium, on the campus at Georgia Tech University.