COMMERCE CITY Colo. (From MLS Reports) – Saturday’s international friendly between the Colorado Rapids and Mexico’s famed Club America proved to be a well-matched affair despite the Rapids playing in the middle of their season between two league games and Club America still ramping up in their preseason.
For the Rapids the game served as something of a "reserve match with half the squad made up of bench players getting a competitive workout and making their case for playing a larger role in the remainder of the season.
The 0-0 draw was a justification of the depth that head coach Gary Smith has been working to build from before the season started watching his squad players hold their own against one of Mexico’s strongest sides.
"It was a very important game in terms of offering up to those players a better physical platform and a match environment Smith said. "[Club America are] a very very experienced group. They’re a very talented side and we had pretty much our second string out there for the majority of the game. I think it’s been a terrific workout for a lot of the players."
Club America head coach Jesus Ramirez wasn’t concerned by the makeup of the Rapids lineup as he focused on preparing his club for their upcoming season. The fact that his side survived a 28th minute ejection and kept the match competitive against a Rapids lineup that was considerably better than the second string didn’t dispel his frustration at losing a man so early.
"Obviously going down a man  minutes into the match was tough but I felt like the team played well Ramirez said through translator Gabriel Montanez the Dick’s Sporting Goods Park Security Manager. "I would have liked to see the team play at full strength. I felt like the team flowed well and mixed well but I was disappointed that the team went down a man."
Perhaps the most anticipated highlight of the match was the debut appearance of French defender Julien Baudet who has been training with the Rapids for a month but was not eligible to play with the club until the transfer window opened today.
"It’s the best feeling ever Baudet said after finally getting the chance to compete with his new teammates. "I arrived here a month ago and every day has just been running and running and running and coming to the grounds and seeing my teammates playing games over there. It’s so frustrating. So now to get out there and get involved with the team it’s brilliant. I couldn’t wait to get out there and play soccer now."
The Rapids and Baudet flirted with an even bigger frustration as Baudet had to be helped off the field in the 57th minute just shy of the 60-65 minutes Smith had targeted for him. Initial concerns about a pulled hamstring lessened as Baudet stretched it out on the sidelines.
"It’s just been a bad cramp Baudet said. "It’s been my first game since nearly three months. I played in a friendly last week. It was a college team but it wasn’t anything like this. I don’t know if it’s the heat the altitude a bit of everything just a massive cramp. Hopefully it’s going to settle pretty quick and I can be okay for the weekend."
In a match featuring unlimited substitutions the Rapids had six players last all 90 minutes including veteran backup goalkeeper Preston Burpo who put up a clean sheet against an attacking team that put up 14 shots to the Rapids’ 13.
"Club America’s a good team and man down or not we knew we were still in for a long long game Burpo said. "It’s their pre-season but there’s some good players over there. Those guys put us under pressure a lot of times during the game. It was nice to get the 90 minutes."
At the other end of the spectrum it was an opportunity for a rookie like Ross Schunk to play 71 minutes in a game with tremendous atmosphere as Club America’s fans filled the stadium making Colorado feel like visitors in their own park and causing some Rapids to wonder when the flight home from Mexico City was.
"You hear so much about Club America growing up Schunk said. "It was a great opportunity for all of us I think. They’re technically awesome even with a man down pinging it one touch two touch. Good team."
Perhaps the draw offered the best possible outcome as the fans were engaged for all 90 minutes and both sides got the kind of challenge they each needed at this stage in their respective seasons.
"I was delighted with the application Smith said of what he saw from his players. "The players outside of the starting 11 need football. We’re finding more and more that the characters and the players that we’re bringing through are the right ones. And in what is an exhibition game you’ve seen 11-15 players apply themselves terrifically. That’s a big pat on the back for them. And it prepares them even more so for when they’re going to be needed as the season unfolds."
Owen Perkins is a contributor to MLSnet.com
AT&T Rapids Man of the Match: Preston Burpo
Club America: Armando Navarrette Oscar Rojas (Manuel Garcia 81) Ricardo Rojas Aquivaldo Mosquera (Rodrigo Inigo 78) Guillermo Cerda (Andres Rodriguez 87) Jaoquin Martinez (Arnhol Rivas 76) Pavel Pardo (Lampros Kontogiannis 78) Angel Reyna (Armando Sanchez 45) Salvador Cabanas (Andres Chitiva 87) Enrique Esqueda (Daniel Marquez 79) Beausejour Jean (Juan Carlos Silva 78)
Substitutes Not Used: Leonnin Pineda Renato Gonzalez
Colorado Rapids: Preston Burpo Rob Valentino Julien Baudet (Ugo Ihemelu 57) Ty Harden Cory Gibbs (Scott Palguta 42) Terry Cooke Greg Dalby Mehdi Ballouchy (Jordan Harvey 45) Jacob Peterson (Kosuke Kimura 64) Pat Noonan Ross Schunk (Omar Cummings 71)
Substitutes Not Used: Conor Casey Matt Pickens
AME- Rojas (Ejection serious foul play) 28
COL- Cooke (Caution tactical foul) 43
COL- Valentino (Caution tactical foul) 69
Referee: Mark Geiger
Referee's Assistants: Kermit Quisenberry Robert Keiffer
Fourth Official: Scott McCaslin