Jack Price opened the scoring for Colorado with his 10th-minute goal, and Diego Rubio doubled the lead with a direct free kick in first-half stoppage time to give the Rapids a 2-0 lead into halftime.
After missing a penalty in the first half, Kei Kamara added a third for Colorado in the 72nd minute as the Rapids sealed a 3-0 victory to keep their playoff hopes alive heading into the final match of the season.
Here are three takeaways from Colorado’s win:
Thank you, Tim
Appropriately, Colorado maintained a clean sheet in Howard’s return to action following more than a month of dealing with a nagging leg injury.
Postgame, the Rapids honored the 40-year-old goalkeeper with an on-field ceremony. Head coach Robin Fraser and several of Howard’s teammates were highly complimentary of a goalkeeper who is considered to be one of the best players in the history of U.S. soccer.
“It’s wonderful that we all could be a part of Tim’s career for a little while,” Fraser told reporters postgame. “He’s an extremely classy and talented person who’s had a tremendous career and a tremendous impact on U.S. soccer and really everyone that he’s touched. I think we’re all really privileged to be a part of this celebration and to have taken some small part in Tim’s career.”
Rapids defender Tommy Smith said his team was aware of this game’s significance.
“I think once you cross the white line it’s just another game, but we know that in the build up to the game it was Tim’s last home game,” Smith said.” We knew the importance of that to him and to the club as well. We knew we had to win to keep ourselves in with a chance to make playoffs. We’re glad we’ve done that with a bit of style for Tim tonight.”
For the first time since 2016, Colorado has a shot at the postseason heading into its final match of the regular season. Following a 0-9-2 start to the 2019 season, it’s an accomplishment that seemed improbable.
“This season has been crazy,” Howard said. “It’s been up and down. I think before the Portland game in the snow, you would have interviewed me and told me with one game to go and you make the playoffs, we all would’ve said it’s been a pretty good season.
“Well here we are and through the grace of God, a lot of hard work and resilience we figured out a way to a way to sneak into the conversation. I still don’t know how, but you want games to be meaningful. Whether we get into the playoffs, push for a playoff run and push for a championship, who knows. The fact that we have meaningful games now says a lot. In July that wasn’t even feasible.”
Fraser credited the mentality of the Rapids’ players, which he also identified as one of his reasons for accepting Colorado’s head coaching job. Under his direction, the Rapids have now won five of their past six matches and have yet to score fewer than two goals in a match.
“If you would have asked any of us after 11 games that we could potentially make the playoffs, I think you would have called us crazy if we said yes,” the Rapids manager said. “To be in this position is fantastic. Hats off to the group. Not just the players and not just the coaching staff either, but everyone. Everyone behind the scenes has always stayed in a positive frame of mind. The fans as well. They’ve never turned on us and backed us even when it wasn’t going well. To be in the position we are in now is fantastic. We just have to go to LAFC next week, do our job and see how the chips fall.”
Colorado needs a win over Los Angeles FC combined with losses by FC Dallas and the San Jose Earthquakes to qualify for the playoffs on MLS’ decision day.
Lost in the positive result is one key issue that’s been plaguing the Rapids of late: missed penalty kicks.
Kamara’s missed penalty against Dallas Sunday night marked his third of the season and second in three weeks following a miss in a 3-2 loss to Toronto FC Sept. 15. It’s a mark that stands out considering Colorado’s goal differential: minus-three heading into the final match of the regular season.
Fraser told the media that he is unconcerned, and that penalty takes are something for the players to sort out themselves.
“I mean, the fact of the matter is more times than not the players on the field decide who take the penalty kicks,” Fraser responded when asked about the penalty misses. “I’m sure that debate will continue as the week goes on and into the weekend.”