Colorado Rapids welcomed Western Conference rival Real Salt Lake into Dick’s Sporting Good’s Park for the first leg of 2017’s version of the Rocky Mountain Cup, a trophy established by each team’s respective fans.
The big news prior to kickoff was that Tim Howard, Colorado’s captain and goalkeeper, was suspended for three games and fined by Major League Soccer after it was revealed that Howard exchanged obscenities with fans in Colorado’s recent away loss against Sporting Kansas City and grabbed the arm of a Sporting KC fan while leaving the field
In a statement released Friday night by the Rapids the organization stated that “Tim Howard made an unfortunate and regrettable mistake for which he is being disciplined by MLS. While this is out of character for Tim, we do not condone these actions. We accept the league’s decision and look forward to moving past this.”
Zac MacMath started in Howard’s place and has generally played well when called upon. Rapids Head Coach Pablo Mastroeni made a statement by giving MacMath the captain’s armband in the wake of Howard’s suspension , showing confidence in his back up keeper in a trying match against Colorado’s nearest geographical rival.
Kortne Ford, the Denver University graduate who was selected by Colorado in this year’s MLS SuperDraft, made his second start, and first home start, at center back for the Rapids.
The match started out bogged down in midfield with neither team gaining control early. In the 5th minute the Rapids had the first chance of the match after Kevin Doyle latched on to a long diagonal ball and found himself clean through on Nick Rimando’s goal, cutting in from the right wing. Doyle tried to beat Rimando at his near post, but the veteran keeper wouldn’t be beat and tipped Doyle’s shot wide for a Colorado corner.
In the early weeks of the 2017 MLS season we’ve seen teams playing a more vertical offense than in previous seasons and Colorado seemed keen to emulate that. When Zac MacMath would come out to claim an over hit through ball or cross, Kevin Doyle and the Rapids wing players would immediately take off up the pitch and MacMath would look to distribute to one of those runners. Several times this put Colorado in dangerous positions, with back up there to support, but they couldn’t capitalize early in the match.
The match was stale almost from the start and there were very few highlights from the opening half hour, until the 29th minute. After Kortne Ford found Nana Boateng on the wing the Rapids new midfielder played a perfectly weighted through ball to Marlon Hairston who was streaking down the left side of the pitch. Hairston took the ball in stride and without looking for a run, sent an out-curling cross into the box where Kevin Doyle split two defenders to head the ball on goal. Nick Rimando got a hand to the headed effort, but it wasn’t enough to keep Doyle’s attempt out of goal and the Rapids took a 1-0 lead.
Almost immediately following the restart Nana Boateng suffered what appeared to be a lower back injury and was substituted for fellow newcomer Mohammed Saeid. Saeid was acquired by Colorado as part of the trade that sent Sam Cronin and Marc Burch to Minnesota United FC after the third week of the season and his appearance in the match was his first for Colorado.
Brooks Lennon looked like Salt Lake’s only real threat in the first half as he had several intelligent runs that sucked Rapids defenders in before Lennon would pass off to a fellow attacker in a dangerous area. Lennon found a lot of success running at Kortne Ford as the young defender’s inexperience showed against Lennon’s pace.
At half time Colorado lead 1-0 but apart from Kevin Doyle’s goal the match was very level with neither side commanding possession or looking truly dangerous.
The second half trudged along in similar fashion to the first until around the 60th minute when Real began to control the flow of the match. They began to peg Colorado deep in their own half and if it weren’t for a handful of errant crosses, Salt Lake could have really pressured Zac MacMath and capitalized on their possession.
Brooks Lennon continued to look like the most dangerous player on the pitch and his crisp passing and ability to cut in on his right foot caused the Rapid defense problems.
Colorado looked to counter as often as possible but only managed to create a few half chances for Kevin Doyle.
Josh Gatt, who came to Colorado by way of the Cronin/Burch trade made his debut in the 80th minute and immediately made a deep run into Salt Lake territory and fired just wide of Nick Rimando’s goal.
Just minutes later the match changed completely when Salt Lake, again applying heavy pressure in the Rapid half, drew a free kick on the right wing, just outside the rapids area.
A cross came in from the free kick and Real’s Luis Silva got a headed shot off on the Rapid goal. The shot careened off the crossbar and landed nicely for Salt Lake defender Chris Wingert who volleyed the shot on goal. The ball struck the awkwardly outstretched arms of Jared Watts, who knew nothing of the shot or where the ball was heading, and the referee awarded a penalty and immediately showed Watts a red card.
Replays will show that Jared Watts had no chance to move his arms away from the ball during the bang bang play, nor did he have any intent to handle the ball, making Referee Ismail Elfath’s decision to show a red card a harsh one.
Yura Movsisyan, who had been having a quiet match up till that point, stepped up to take the penalty kick for Salt Lake. Movsisyan fired hard and low to the bottom left corner of Zac MacMath’s goal and though the keeper guessed correctly which way the shot was going, had to watch the ball sneak past and underneath his outstretched arm for a goal.
The match was tied at a goal a piece and Colorado was a man down with just five minutes left in regulation.
Barely three minutes later that changed once again as Real drove at the 10 man Rapids and Brooks Lennon cut in from the right wing onto his favored right foot. Lennon cut past two Colorado defenders before striking the ball from just outside Colorado’s box, hard and low to the bottom left corner of goal, beating Zac MacMath and giving Salt Lake the lead with just two minutes left in regulation.
Colorado threw men forward in the dying minutes of the game but the final whistle blew with Real ahead two goals to one, giving the Rapids their first regular season home loss since 2015.
After the match Pablo Mastroeni was upset with the goals his team gave up as well as the officiating. When asked how felt about the match at the end of the press conference Mastroeni was sour. “Like Dog poop. Dog poop. Dog Poop. I feel terrible. I feel terrible…”
Real’s man of the match Brooks Lennon talked about his match winning goal saying, “I got it on the left side and I’m right footed so I naturally come in on my right and, came in and saw an opening and fired it and when I looked up and saw it go in the net, that was the best feeling in the world.”