Jul 21, 2018; Sandy, UT, USA; Real Salt Lake midfielder Nick Besler (13) kicks the ball over Colorado Rapids midfielder Jack McBean (32) and up the field during the first half at Rio Tinto Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports
After going up 2-0 within the first 20 minutes off goals from Damir Kreilach (11’) and Joao Plata (17’), a third-straight Rocky Mountain Cup title looked well in the grasp of Real Salt Lake.
But a 45-minute weather delay shifted momentum in favor of the Colorado Rapids, who came back to tie the match with a converted penalty from Jack McBean (33’) and a late-gasp goal from Dillon Serna (88’) as Colorado and RSL battled to a 2-2 draw at Rio Tinto on Saturday night.
Here are three takeaways from Colorado’s 2-0 loss to RSL:
Enjoying the weather
Before a 45-minute rain delay, which began in the 24th minute, RSL was dominant both in possession and on the scoreboard. Having gone up 2-0 within the first 20 minutes, a third-straight Rocky Mountain Cup crown looked like a foregone conclusion for the hosts.
But the delay in play allowed Colorado to adjust, and Colorado played with a better resolve following the break.
“To be honest, it was a really, really bad start for us and the weather delay sort of helped us because we were able to look at it and change a few things with the shape and make some personnel changes,” said Rapids head coach Anthony Hudson. “I think everyone in the locker room — we weren’t happy with how we started and we knew that had to change. Full credit to the players. Their response was excellent.”
The momentum shift was clear to viewers of the match, but also the players on the pitch.
“We had good momentum going into that weather delay,” explained RSL defender Aaron Herrera. “That weather delay favored Colorado. They got to regroup and they came out a lot harder after that. We weathered it for the most part. I thought we defended well – we defended almost the whole game, it felt like. It was just two frustrating goals to give away.”
Badji away, others come out to play
Colorado entered the match without the services of Dominique Badji, who was away from the team while finalizing the process of acquiring his green card. Having jettisoned Joe Mason last week after ending his loan deal, Colorado was also without its second leading scorer. The duo had combined for 10 goals, or nearly half of the Rapids 22 goals scored this season, leaving a big offensive void for the Rapids to fill entering the match.
With Badji out and Mason no longer a Rapids player, Colorado’s top scorers in the starting XI for this match were defenders Tommy Smith and Edgar Castillo. Hudson relied on Jack McBean and Yannick Boli as the primary attacking threats. Boli was once again disappointing, being subbed off following the rain delay for Enzo Martinez, but McBean delivered one of his better performances – holding up the ball in the attacking third and delivering on the penalty kick opportunity to draw Colorado within 2-1 before the half.
But the last-gasp offensive spark came from homegrown Dillon Serna. Coming off the bench and playing in a more comfortable advanced position for the player, Serna stunningly tucked in the equalizer behind Nick Rimando to steal a road point for Colorado.
“I just said go make yourself a hero,” Hudson said of his message to Serna before making the substitution. “It’s a local derby. I could tell when he was coming on, he was up for it. I couldn’t have asked for any more from the players after that break. They forced the game in our favor and they gave us everything.”
Within the Colorado camp, it was a very publicly stated goal to bring home some silverware this season.
In preseason, Rapids captain and goalkeeper Tim Howard was asked about the club’s goals entering 2018.
He responded, “Trying to lift some silverware. I think that’s vitally important for any player and it’s important to me. I’ve never been one to be around for the numbers. It’s important we drive this club forward and we’re lifting trophies at the end of the day.”
But with multiple opportunities to reach that goal, Colorado has stumbled every step of the way. First it was CONCACAF Champions League which Anthony Hudson approached as preseason preparations. Then, with an opportunity to advance in the U.S. Open Cup, Colorado was shocked in a 2-0 upset by first-year USL side Nashville SC. The Supporters Shield is completely out of the question, while even making the playoffs this season is slim odds.
In down years, the Rocky Mountain Cup has been an opportunity at redemption for Colorado, and arguably the easiest path to a trophy. Colorado’s two away goals to tie up the match in this one still give the Rapids a shot at the rivalry trophy, although a 3-0 win or better will be required when the teams meet again in Commerce City next month.