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.
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.