COMMERCE CITY, Colo.- Colorado Rapids head coach Pablo Mastroeni rarely calls-out players or even specific components of his team, so when after last Tuesday’s game he said that his defense allowed two “brain-dead” goals in a 2-1 loss to the Atlanta Silverbacks in U.S. Open Cup 5th-round play, it certainly raised eyebrows.
And it also appeared to wake up his back line.
In Saturday’s 2-0 win over the Vancouver Whitecaps at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, not only did the Rapids post their eighth shutout of the season, they did so by allowing their two fullbacks, Marvell Wynne and Chris Klute, to push further up the field and contribute in attack. More defense was, of all things, aided by a noticeably strong push up the field from Wynne and Drew Moor - delivering an added spark in attack while keeping the visitors on their toes from the opening whistle.
“We went in with a game-plan for Vancouver. We knew they had some good speed up top, with Hurtado and Mattocks, and I think we executed perfectly [Saturday],” Rapids center-back Shane O’Neill said postgame. “The first half we were really smart, kept the ball really well, but in the second half it was more of a grind, just trying to battle it out. We did that. The communication on the backline was huge tonight, it was a lot better, and I think going forward that has to be the standard. If that’s the case, I think we might go on a good run here.”
Wynne in particular was a factor offensively, moving forward from his right back spot to deliver crosses and make several runs deep into the Vancouver half. In the meantime, O’Neill and fellow center-back Moor kept things relatively tidy along the back line (along with the help from some fine late saves from goalie Clint Irwin), as the Rapids held off a strong second-half push from the visitors to keep the shutout intact.
“If you want to get forward, you’ve got to make them defend. And the only way to make them defend is for your guys that are typically more defensive-minded to move forward in the attack,” Mastroeni said postgame on Saturday. “That was a focus [last] week, I think they executed it to a T, and again, the will to want to get forward, and the success they’re having when they’re doing it, validated all the work.”
So how do the Rapids keep the back line playing the way they did on Saturday? O’Neill said it’s relatively simple.
“Just communication along the back line, asking the same from each other as we did [Saturday],” O’Neill said. “In the last 15 minutes, we were all just fighting for each other. I think if we do that, first half it’s all about controlling the game, setting the tempo, possessing. Second half you just have to grind it out. As playoffs approach, these games get tight and the defense has to step up.”
Chris Bianchi covers the Colorado Rapids for MLSsoccer.com