Familiar story for Rapids as second-half goal earns win

Mastroeni's 71st-minute strike turns game for Colorado

Pablo Mastroeni

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Last week, it was Jeff Larentowicz in the 71st
minute who changed the game against Toronto for the Colorado Rapids. At almost
exactly the same point on Saturday in New England, it was his central
midfield colleague, Pablo Mastroeni, who turned things on their head.

Club captain Mastroeni, who has now scored only three times
in his whole career with Colorado, drilled one in from outside the penalty area
after 72 minutes following great holding work from Conor Casey. Much like his
goal against Chivas USA last season at home, it was a wonder strike.

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Before Mastroeni’s pile-driver, it looked as if the Rapids
may have lost their chance to take home three points after dominating the first
45 minutes but going into halftime tied after once again conceding a goal from
a set piece. The Rapids still have yet to concede a goal in open play this
season in the league.

Inevitably, New England pressed more in the second half and
the chances appeared to be running out for Colorado. Before Mastroeni’s strike, that is.
Casey had a great chance to release a wide-open Omar Cummings in the closing
minutes to secure the game but could not make the pass. It didn’t matter in the
end as the Rapids, strong in defense all night, held firm and secured the three
points.

Coming back from conceding a goal, and then going on to win
a tough game is largely unfamiliar territory for the Rapids. Head coach Gary
Smith has wanted to build such a mentality in the team, and it looks as if all
the hard work is beginning to pay off.

“The big difference in the group this year is having the
confidence they can go on and win it,” he told MLSsoccer.com after the game.
“Last year, there was a bit of concern when we conceded. Now, there is a steely
determination, and there is nothing better to help that than by winning games
of football.”

Smith had called for a positive approach from his players
for this always-difficult game. As he had hinted earlier in the week, he gave a
start to Wells Thompson, one of Colorado’s most positive players so far this
season. It was the former New England midfielder’s first MLS league start for
the Rapids.

Surprisingly, Smith also opted to start Mehdi Ballouchy
ahead of Colin Clark, and the gamble paid off massively as the Moroccan
midfielder, playing in a more accustomed central role just ahead of Larentowicz
and Mastroeni, opened the scoring in the 14th minute with a
beautiful finish from outside the area.

“We’ve forgotten about Mehdis’ strike with Pablo’s goal, but
it was a very good strike and the build-up was wonderful,” Smith said. “His
general play was excellent. I know he has his critics but he has answered them
today.”

Smith also pushed Cummings out wider.

“Omar and Wells have both been very confident, and I wanted
to get at [New England’s] fullbacks and make them play a bit quicker than they
wanted,” Smith said. “Wells has been very positive and I wanted to reward the
lad. He put in a sterling performance.”

The one disappointing aspect of the night for Colorado was
conceding a goal from a set piece again. In truth, it was a beautiful free kick
from Marko Perovic, but Smith—always a perfectionist—will again have to go
back to the drawing board and work out how to avoid such giveaway goals. After
viewing the videotape of the incident, Smith said he was disappointed that a
foul was committed in an apparently innocuous passage of play.

But such disappointments aside, it will be a happy group
retuning to Colorado with a strong sense of self-belief after a fine victory. The
Rapids have now won two road games in the opening few weeks of the season, which
is as many as they won away from home all of last season. They face San Jose
Earthquakes in another road trip next Sat., May 1.