Colorado Rapids registered their first win of preseason against FC Tucson on Wednesday and, with it, qualified for the final of the Desert Diamond Cup.
The only goal was scored with 10 minutes left, just as it started to seem as if Pablo Mastroeni’s side would go unrewarded for their energy and ingenuity on the night.
Seattle Sounders and Sporting KC failed to win their last fixtures, so the Rapids reached the final with five points from three games. They will meet Rocky Mountain Cup rivals Real Salt Lake, kickoff 7 p.m. MT.
It will be Rapids’ last competitive 90 minutes before their MLS season starts on March 7. A little silverware would be the perfect send-off.
Before kick-off, Mastroeni decided to leave some of his key preseason players on the bench. Lucas Pittinari and Marcelo Sarvas have been an impressive midfield hub so far, while Vicente Sánchez always adds guile. None were involved against the PDL side from Arizona.
Rapids had the better of the first half however they did not make the most of the numerous chances they created.
New young DP Juan Ramirez was the best player on show in the opening stages. In the eighth minute, he fired wide from Dillon Powers’ left-wing cutback. Five minutes before the break the Argentine showed all his abilities with a mazy run and shot that drew the best out of Tucson keeper Keegan Rogers.
In between those efforts, Deshorn Brown headed over and fired a couple of efforts wide. Rapids had dominated and created opportunities, however nothing sufficiently clear-cut.
And Tucson nearly produced a sucker-punch just before the interval when Zac MacMath made a smart save from Odaine Sinclair.
As ever there were changes at the break but, this time, the Rapids kept control of the game.
Brown fired wide just past the hour and Powers drew another good save from Rogers shortly afterwards when he tried to convert at the near post.
When, in the 76th minute, Torres saw his effort off cleared off the line and Dillon Serna clipped wide from the rebound you started to wonder if Rapids were just not going to score this evening. Even when Benji Joya did squeeze a shot under Rogers at the near post, the keeper recovered to smother.
Finally, 10 minutes from time, Rapids broke the deadlock when Sjöberg wriggled clear of his marker to head home.
It was nothing less than Mastroeni’s men deserved but they will have to be more clinical if they are to beat their neighbors and lift the Desert Diamond Cup on Saturday night.
COLORADO RAPIDS 1:0 FC TUCSON
Desert Diamond Cup - Kino North Stadium, Tucson, Arizona
COL - Axel Sjöberg (Gabriel Torres) 80
Colorado Rapids: Zac McMath (John Berner 63); James Riley (Wes Knight 46), Bobby Burling (Axel Sjöberg 46), Jared Watts (Ben Newnam 63), Marc Burch (Michael Harrington 72), Nick LaBrocca, Sam Cronin, Marlon Hairston (Dillon Serna 46), Dillon Powers (Dominique Badji 72), Juan Ramirez (Benji Joya 64), Deshorn Brown (Gabriel Torres 72).