Right place, right time.
It didn’t have the fanfare of the Home Opener and it was a cold, damp night in Commerce City against an Eastern Conference opponent. None of that mattered to the home fans, players, or head coach Anthony Hudson – everyone needed a win to validate the work and set the course. For nearly a month now, this group of new faces - coaches and players - have been living with the grey cloud and questions that inevitably arise following late-game mistakes. To their credit, everyone in camp preached confidence all week (and all month), knowing the process would pay off. And pay off it did with a dominant 90-minute performance. The defense held Philadelphia to four shots on goal and I don’t remember any of those challenging Tim Howard. The attack was quiet in the first half but mashed it in to high gear and put three past an organized side that doesn’t concede many goals.
It’s far too early to look at the MLS table, but if you happen to be scoreboard watching after the fifth week of play, the Rapids gained ground on Seattle, San Jose, Minnesota and Houston who all dropped points at home on Saturday night. With a road trip to Dallas followed by a visit from Toronto FC and a derby match with Real Salt Lake this win should boost the spirits ahead of an early-season gauntlet.
Raise up, Dom.
Dominque Badji will steal the headlines tonight, and rightfully so. He put forth the most complete performance of his career and bagged the first hat trick for the Rapids since 2011. His first two goals came thanks to his growing knack in front of the net and both will make the eventual all-time MLS goal-scoring king, Chris Wondolowski, proud. Ask Wondo - or any player that makes a living scoring goals - it doesn’t matter how they look, they all count the same.
In his fourth season, Badji now has a killer instinct to go along with his immense athletic ability. It’s been amazing to see the fourth-round draft pick add a little bit to his game each season. A little pace, a little bulk, the ability to create for teammates or use his physicality to hold up play. He's improved in every area during recent years and if he keeps it up, Badji will open plenty more eyes across the soccer world.
Trio flies under the radar.
Johan Blomberg is quietly putting together a great start to the 2018 season. Tonight, he was dangerous linking between his midfield partners Jack Price and Enzo Martinez, and did well to play Edgar Castillo and Marlon Hariston in to space all night. He was involved in the second goal and provided the inch-perfect ball to Badji on the final tally. While the attack didn’t click until the second half, the Swede has an incredible motor on offense and possesses a skillset to put in the necessary work on the defensive end. He's capable on both ends, but is best served as a compliment to the attacking group (when fully healthy) of Badji, Shkëlzen Gashi, Yannick Boli, Joe Mason and Stefan Aigner.
Last, but not least, two familiar faces stepped up big time in the win - Axel Sjöberg and Dillon Serna. The Swede subbed on at half-time for Danny Wilson who took a knock and the backline didn’t miss a beat. Sjöberg was, as always, a presence in the air and his vocal leadership and positioning were crucial in helping to close out the match in the final moments. Serna came on for an injured Marlon Hairston and immediately contributed on Badji’s second goal. He filled the right hand side – both on the defensive end and in the attack – and showed his versatility in ensuring the home side secured a first win of 2018. Depth is a key component for successful MLS sides and it was a major reason the Rapids closed down Philadelphia tonight.