COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – Dick’s Sporting Goods Park was the backdrop of an international friendly between two Kroenke-owned football clubs as the Colorado Rapids hosted English Premier League giants Arsenal on Monday evening.
With Colorado in the midst of its league campaign and Arsenal ramping up its preseason, both clubs entered the match with lineups heavy on reserves and youth players.
“I’m so happy for the fans to be able to experience something like this,” said Rapids interim head coach Conor Casey. “They’re a good team so you see the level and a great exercise for our guys who haven’t seen as many minutes.”
Arsenal was equally pleased to work out its young players.
“It’s our first match,” Arsenal manager Unai Emery said of the game. “We were working well in Los Angeles. It’s good to use different young players and to show the quality and commitment to work and to be with the team. This moment is for the young players.”
Arsenal newcomer Gabriel Martinelli had the game’s first clear chance, sending a shot wide in the 4th minute. The visitors opened the scoring in the 14th minute as Arsenal midfielder James Olayinka sent in a slicing through ball to Bukayo Saka, who chipped the ball past Rapids goalkeeper Clint Irwin for the 1-0 lead.
Recalled from his USL loan in Charlotte, Rapids forward Niki Jackson nearly equalized for the hosts two minutes later, but his shot also went wide of the mark.
“He was physically a lot to handle,” Casey said of Jackson’s performance. “We’ve been tracking him and he brings some physicality to the game.”
Martinelli had another clear opportunity in the 17th minute, but that shot missed just outside of the far post.
Olayinka added a goal of his own in the 29th minute, taking a shot from outside the 18-yard box and burying it into the upper 90, doubling Arsenal’s lead to 2-0.
Colorado homegrown Cole Bassett put a shot on target in the 41st minute, but it was calmly saved by Arsenal goalkeeper Matt Macey.
Despite it being a friendly, the game did feature a booking, with Rapids defender Kofi Opare earning a yellow card just before the half with a hard tackle on Nketiah.
In first half extra time, the Rapids nearly found an equalizer, with Johan Blomberg’s initial effort parried away by Macey and a follow up effort from Dillon Serna cleared away.
Out of the half, players from the Rapids’ USL affiliate, the Colorado Springs Switchbacks subbed into the match as midfielders Kwasi Donsu and Jordan Schweitzer subbed in for regulars Cole Basset and Nicolas Mezquida.
“It was just a great experience for those guys and they showed well,” said Casey. “They should take a lot of confidence going back to the Switchbacks.”
Arsenal continued to show its quality into the second half, adding a third goal as midfielder Dominic Thompson connected with Martinelli, who scored his debut goal for the club.
“I want to give every young player chances to be with us,” Emery said. “First on the training ground and then in matches like today. [Players like Martinelli] will earn the opportunity to play with us.”
The second half also featured several Arsenal regulars subbing into the match, including defenders Sead Kolasinac, Shkodran Mustafi and attackers Alexandre Lacazette, Pierre Emerick Aubameyang and Mesut Ozil, but none were able to find the scoresheet, with both Aubemeyang and Lacazette missing easy chances on Colorado’s doorstep.
Both sides saw out the match with 3-0 marking the final result.
“It’s different competition,” said Emery. “They are playing in the league and a good match for them to show themselves in front of their supporters. It was a good game for both teams and I wish them the best in [MLS].”
Arsenal will now travel to Los Angeles to face Bayern Munich in an International Champions Cup match (11 p.m. ET), while Colorado will return to MLS action, hosting NYCFC Saturday (9 p.m. ET)