It was a fight for survival for the Rapids against the Union on Sunday afternoon, and they succeeded.
In front of a frenzied sold-out crowd at Philadelphia’s PPL Park, withstanding the Union's early onslaught, as well as midfield stalwart Jeff Larentowicz's 58th-minute red card, was the key in Colorado's surprising 2-1 victory.
“I thought we had a hard time in some periods of the first half, but we were expecting a team that was going to come flashy and overload us in the last third,” head coach Oscar Pareja told MLSsoccer.com after the match. "It was a game [where] we needed to survive that storm and we did that. Defending is a good quality to have and we did it.”
In the leadup to Sunday’s contest, Rapids players and coaches continually pointed out the importance of surviving the game’s early goings in the road opener, particularly in front of 19,074 raucous fans celebrating Philadelphia’s home opener. And while it was far from pretty – uncharacteristic sloppy giveaways from Drew Moor and Marvell Wynne highlighted a sloppy opening 45 minutes – the scoreboard still read 0-0 at the half, and the Rapids would then take full advantage in the second.
In the 56th minute, Colombian striker Jaime Castrillón finished from close range following Philadelphia 'keeper Zac MacMath’s critical blunder to take the all-important lead.
Just two minutes later, however, Larentowicz received his second yellow and his marching orders.
Before the Union could capitalize on their one-man advantage, however, Colorado's rookie striker Tony Cascio capitalized on Philly right back Chris Albright’s defensive miscue and ripped home his first career MLS goal exactly four minutes after Larentowicz’s red card.
“I never gave up on the play, I figured I’d take a shot and it felt great,” Cascio told MLSsoccer.com shortly after Sunday’s win. “At halftime, we just pulled it together and made the best of [the game].”
The stat sheet was heavily skewed in Philadelphia's favor – the Union out-shot the Rapids 20-9 and controlled 57 percent of the possession – but it's the Rapids who have three precious road points to show for Sunday’s gutty effort.
“We came out in the second half trying to get control of the tempo and the game and get more possession of the ball,” said Pareja. “They found a way to get the result and I’m happy for them. There are many things we need to get better at, but we deserve the three points.”
The Rapids next head east on March 25 for a matchup against the struggling New York Red Bulls (2 pm MT, ESPN), and although they won't have Larentowicz in their ranks for the match, they'll hope to do more than just survive at Red Bull Arena.