As the center official brandished a red card in front of Moïse Bombito on Saturday night, a collective groan could be heard throughout DICK’S Sporting Goods Park. It was barely 10 minutes into the second half, and the Rapids knew it would be a battle until the final whistle to secure points while out-manned.
With the help from Marko Ilić in goal, Colorado hunkered down and secured a draw at home against San Jose Earthquakes.
"His distribution, composure was good. He's a very good shot stopper," said Head Coach Robin Fraser after the match. "His alertness tonight was good--the ball that gets played through late in the second half, and he was quick to get to that. I thought he had a solid performance, and it was important for us, certainly given how the game went, and I thought he did quite well."
Saturday night's game was a tale of two halves, with Colorado putting the heat on San Jose's defense play after play in the first 45 minutes. After going down a man on the backline in the 51st minute, it was the Rapids' turn to deny an increasing number of final-third entries from the Bay Area team. Colorado took on three shots from its opponent in the first half, none on goal. The second half saw almost three times more chances for the Quakes after eight shots were taken.
Within the 15 minutes following the red card call to Bombito, Ilić and company faced three shots, one blocked, one saved by the woodwork, and one off frame entirely. After going down a man, the back line needed a strong voice of leadership to secure a clean sheet. Ilić was there.
While Ilić hasn’t gotten the first-team minutes Yarbrough has this year, in training the Serbian ‘keeper has integrated himself as a valuable shot-stopper and commanding voice from between the sticks.
Ilić's loan from Belgian Pro League side Kortrijk ends in July, barring the Rapids’ decision to exercise the option to buy.
“He's been great. He's still new to the group. It's been great to get to know him and get to know how he leads,” said defender Keegan Rosenberry after the game. “It’s difficult as a goalkeeper. It's almost like you’re either the starter or out of it. It's a difficult position to be in, and I thought he did really well [tonight]. You hear him a lot of the game vocally, and he made a couple good saves, and that's all you can ask. It's difficult when you don't get a ton of games and to step in and be sharp like that is hard to do.”
The communication continues into the locker room between the goalkeepers and the backline.
“We have a good relationship,” said Ilić of the centerbacks. “We speak a lot before the games and we speak about the tactics, about what we’re going to do and just before this game, I spoke with Maxsø to figure out that we have to keep the energy up throughout the whole 90 minutes. That's kind of been our problem lately, that we play one period of the game well and then when we concede goals everything falls apart and that's why we spoke. I feel that the whole whole group kind of felt that and kept that energy for the 90 minutes and fought.”
The Novi Sad native recorded his first start at home in MLS regular season play on Saturday night. Ilić found a spot in goal during the Rapids game against Northern Colorado Hailstorm under very different attendance circumstances.
The U.S. Open Cup clash fell on a Wednesday night, spurring on a smaller crowd compared to the 15,038 fans in the stands to watch the contest with San Jose.
“I think they also felt that we were kind of in a rough spot and that they will have to give us energy and push us to keep our energy up for the 90 minutes and I appreciate that. I think the whole team appreciates their energy. They were amazing tonight,” said Ilić.
“I think this is also their point and their clean sheet because they were really, really good tonight and pushed us from the back. I could hear them the whole game. We will need them 100% in the coming games.”