Friday night was a tough one for the Colorado Rapids.
The club came out firing on all cylinders to start the game, and they were rewarded early. Kellyn Acosta sunk a beautiful left-footed strike from just outside the box to grab a 1-0 lead in the 6th minute.
For the rest of the first half, everything was pretty much coming up Rapids. Sporting Kansas City showed off some of its high press and offensive firepower, but Colorado handled it readily, and SKC already started to tire from their own aggressive style of play.
“I really felt like we came out incredibly aggressively, and we were able to put Kansas City on their heels," head coach Robin Fraser said. "I thought our start was excellent. Throughout, we kept our ability to find the spaces that we wanted and find the players that we wanted, we did a good job at moving the ball and making a number of dangerous opportunities. I thought the concentration by the group was excellent. And, when we concentrate and we play like that, we can compete with anyone.”
In the second half, things got more complicated. The Rapids lost Danny Wilson to a red card, and SKC scored shortly after. Then, Sporting was awarded and scored on a penalty kick, and Jack Price was shown the door a few moments later. Quickly, Sporting had a 2-1 lead, and the Rapids were in a nearly impossible spot.
Most teams would just try to see out the 90 minutes and move to the next match, conceding their losses. Not this group. After a nice little give-and-go with Kei Kamara, Jonathan Lewis slotted home the equalizer in the 81st minute. It was a stunning turn of events and for a moment it appeared as if the Rapids would miraculously fight to a draw.
But, in stoppage time, Graham Zusi sunk the game-winner off of a deflected shot and that was the end of a crazy second half.
It was truly a wild ride, but Fraser had nothing but positive thing to say on the play and resilience of his squad.
The cards that his side were dealt on the night simply proved insurmountable.
“I can’t be more proud of my team. Talk about a resilient performance. When we were full strength, we were excellent. When we were down one man, we were still excellent. When we were down two, we were still excellent. I can’t be more proud of them.”
Going into the final match of the group stage, the Rapids will likely be playing only for regular season points, but the man in charge doesn't think that will hold his team back.
“I’m not worried about picking up [the team] for the third game. I’m worried about containing them for the third game. They are chomping at the bit to go and get after somebody else. They feel like they’ve been hard done, and they want to get onto the next one.”
As far as advancing to the knockout round, the Rapids do still have a chance by claiming one of the wildcard slots.
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The Rapids would need to get a big win over Minnesota helping them in the goal differential column, and they would need RSL to beat Sporting. On top of that, they'd still need a little bit of luck. Never say never.
With four wildcard slots available and only six groups in total, if the Rapids are able to pass SKC for the third slot in the group, they aren’t guaranteed to advance, but they will be in a good spot.
In order to get into third spot, they will need to pass SKC through the first tie-breaker of goal differential. Colorado currently has a minus three differential, and Sporting is at zero. A three-goal win would seal the deal, presuming SKC loses, but a two-goal victory may also be sufficient, if RSL were to also win by a two-goal margin.
Point being, the Rapids cannot take their foot off the gas but Fraser is confident that won't be a problem.
“They’re disappointed. They feel hard done. But they also know that they put forth a great effort. They look around at each other and they’re proud of themselves and each other because they know that they put forth the type of effort that it takes to win. Obviously, on the day, we didn’t win, but, again, it’s a close-knit group who fight together. They fought together for a long time. For them, it’s at least gratifying to know that they battled through together, and they could recognize themselves again. This is who this team is. The more we push, the more things are going to go their way.”