COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – It may seem counter intuitive to highlight the importance of goalkeeper Matt Pickens to the Colorado Rapids’ defense a day after he conceded two goals against the Chicago Fire.
The Rapids have now let in only nine goals in 11 MLS league games so, to let in as many as two in just one game, may not seem to be the best time to analyze what Pickens brings to the team. But the fact is that the 28-year-old former Fire player had one of his best performances of the 2010 season last night as the Rapids eked out a tough 2-2 draw.
Nowhere was that more evident than in the immediate aftermath of Chicago’s first goal. With the Fire energized by Pappa’s 23rd-minute equalizer from a free kick —Omar Cummings had put the Rapids up in the 21st minute—, Chicago launched a number of attacks that led to some really good opportunities. Pickens stood tall and made at least two excellent saves to prevent the Fire from taking the lead. It was a critical part of the game, noted Gary Smith, Rapids’ head coach.
“Matt was the difference in keeping us in the game,” he told MLSsoccer.com after the match.
And even though Pappa scored again at the end of the first half injury time, Pickens’ saves at such a crucial juncture right after the equalizer had prevented the Fire from taking an unassailable lead.
The Rapids went into the second half with a different formation, found the momentum they needed and dominated proceedings in the second 45 minutes. Numerous chances were created, culminating in Conor Casey’s late headed equalizer.
Pickens modestly said at training earlier this week that Colorado’s stingy defense —they are second in the MLS behind LA, the only two teams to have single digit numbers in the goals against column— is clearly a group achievement. Whether it has been Marvell Wynne, Drew Moor or Julien Baudet at center back or Danny Earls, Wynne, Moor and Kosuke Kimura at right or left back, there has been a cohesion there that has helped the goalkeeper do his job.
“It’s been really positive,” Pickens told MLSsoccer.com. “The back [line] has been a rock. For me, Moor is the best defender in the league.”
Looking further upfield, Pickens said the midfield pairing of Pablo Mastroeni and Jeff Larentowicz has also been instrumental in preventing dangerous situations from materializing in the first place.
And while he may be a little disappointed not to get three points in Chicago, Pickens will be grateful Casey did the business at the other end of the field to secure a tough point as Colorado head into the break.