In late August last year, the Colorado Rapids blew a 2-0 lead in Chicago with 20 minutes to go and limped wretchedly to defeat. Tonight, the team showed it has a different resolve this season, clinching a very late equalizer from Conor Casey.
Casey finished with a smart header from another perfect cross by late substitute Jamie Smith. Smith had come on at a similar stage in the weekend victory over Columbus, providing the cross from a free kick which led to Drew Moor’s headed goal. Tonight, it was the big Rapids’ striker who enjoyed perfect service from Smith in the 91st minute, finishing calmly after enduring a tough night where he was well marshaled by the Fire defense and where good service often came up short.
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“I thought we weren’t too helpful with that—the service into him was limited and there wasn’t enough sharpness in our play,” Rapids head coach Gary Smith told MLSsoccer.com, referring to the first half. “Both he and Omar [Cummings] were excellent in the second half. Omar’s movement was great and it drew pressure off Casey.”
The second half was indeed a big turnaround for the Rapids, who dominated possession in the last 45 minutes. In the first half, chances had been scarce and Chicago controlled much of the game. The Fire had ten shots with five on goal in the first half, while Colorado had only three shots with one on goal.
Thankfully for the Rapids, that one shot on goal was converted as Omar Cummings finished a crisp move involving Casey and Mehdi Ballouchy.
Unfortunately for the Rapids, though, Marco Pappa scored twice for the Fire, including an injury-time goal to take Chicago into the break 2-1 up. The Guatemalan had earlier scored from a free kick right after Cummings’ opener.
A change was made by the Rapids right at the start of the second half with Wells Thompson coming on in place of Ross LaBeaux in the midfield. The Rapids switched to a more conventional 4-4-2 and the formation worked with immediate effect.
The Rapids created a lot more chances in the second period as they pushed forward in search of the equalizer. Nobody came closer than Cummings, who thumped a shot against the post in the 70th minute after a great ball from Ballouchy. The Jamaican also came close in the 88th minute but couldn’t get hold of a volley close in.
But just when it seemed that the Rapids would have to enter the World Cup break with a disappointing defeat to break their three game winning streak, up popped Casey.
“The lads showed real determination to make a game of it in the second half, and a lot of credit goes to them for the effort in the second period,” Smith said.
As well as his strikers, Smith was eager to praise Jamie Smith and the goalkeeping of Matt Pickens, who came up with some big saves in the first half. He also made sure to note that LaBeaux had a very good 45 minutes on his MLS league debut in his hometown.
“He was terrific in the first half, and it was only because of the change in formation that he came off,” Smith said.
The Rapids now enter a 17-day break from matches with their next league meeting June 26 in Houston. They’ll be feeling just fine about that after tonight’s never-say-die tie in Chicago.