Anthony Markanich jogged over to the Rapids’ bench, slipping on a jersey as he made his way to the coaching staff to get instruction on who to sub out halfway through the second half of the Rapids matchup with Real Salt Lake on Saturday night. Head Coach Robin Fraser was deliberating on whether or not to pull Lalas Abubakar from the game, but he knew deep down that Colorado needed the Ghanian on set pieces. He was just too dangerous in the box.
Moments later, Abubakar found the back of the net following a free kick. His substitution would have to wait.
Abubakar has been invested in the rivalry with Salt Lake from day one. Not only was he immediately fully invested in the club and its ethos, but he has always raised the bar for the derby with Colorado’s Rocky Mountain neighbors.
The heated matches highlight Abubakar’s protective and fierce personality on the pitch. Any time a feud breaks out, you can guarantee that the center back is already in the mix, if not sprinting his way there.
“He's one of these guys who wears his emotions on his sleeves. He would bleed for this club. Gladly,” said Head Coach Robin Fraser. “He will fight to the death for the club. He'll give you everything he has every minute.”
Fellow center back Danny Wilson echoed Fraser’s sentiments. Wilson and Abubakar have been holding down the back line alongside each other since 2019, and the Scotsman is well-attuned to his teammate's personality, on and off the pitch.
“If you know Lalas, passion’s just him. He's one of those guys that maybe he's a little bit too passionate in training in terms of he’s just always on it,” he said on Saturday. “Happy for him to get a goal tonight. I'm sure if you asked him, he would have traded a goal for a clean sheet.”
The Ghanian defender will not only put his whole fighting spirit into Rocky Mountain Cup matches, but can back it up with goals scored.
Abubakar has now scored in the past three matchups with Salt Lake. In April of 2022, fans will remember Abubakar equalizing in the 55th minute after getting on the end of a low drive into the box by Michael Barrios, sliding past his defender to put the ball in the back of the net.
Three months later, he helped the Rapids secure another draw with their rivals, this time on their turf and in the dying moments of the game. His inside-of-the foot volley on the receiving end of Gyasi Zardes’ header left RSL defenders scratching their heads as to how he snuck past them on the back post, but the defender had already sealed his fourth goal of the season.
That draw in Sandy, Utah, meant that RSL would retain the Rocky Mountain Cup for another year. Abubakar’s frustration over the rules of the supporter-made series was evident once the final whistle was blown and the team returned to the visitors’ locker room, shaking his head while being greeted by Rapids’ General Manager, Padraig Smith.
“That’s just not fair,” he told Smith.
Fairness aside, the defender fought until the last minute on Saturday night in the Rapids’ first crack at their rivals in the 2023 season.
Abubakar struck in 74th-minute to bring the scoreline closer at DICK’S Sporting Goods Park. Following a free kick in RSL’s half, Wilson recycled the ball back into the box where Abubakar was waiting, once again unmarked, on the back post. His header past former Rapids’ goalkeeper Zac MacMath marked his second goal of the season.
Abubakar’s goal wasn't enough to bring the Rapids a point at home, but Colorado has a chance at redemption in just a few days when Salt Lake returns to DSGP for the U.S. Open Cup Round of 16 match on Wednesday night.
“I can't wait for Wednesday, I can't wait to step on the field and give it my all and win that game,” he said. “We’ve got to make sure to win Wednesday no matter what, we’ve got to bring the right mentality, [be] physically ready and mentally ready to win, we have no excuse.”