Rapids reach MLS Cup FinalBy pshea • Nov 14th, 2010 • Category: Also Noted, Features, Lead Story, Match Reports, Recent Comments, Top of the Box, Uncategorized, Weekly Commentary
With a combination of gritty defense and relentless attacking, the Colorado Rapids notched a 1-0 victory over the San Jose Earthquakes at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park on Saturday night to reach the MLS Cup Final in Toronto next week.
Central defender Drew Moor cleared the ball with his head 17 times during the game for Colorado, and he launched a diving header on goal in the 70th minute. San Jose midfielder Geovanni cleared Moor’s shot off the line to prevent a final nail in his team’s coffin.
Ultimately, Kosuke Kimura’s inswinging cross in the 42nd minute was the game-winner for Colorado. San Jose defender Tim Ward won a race to the ball deep in the corner and knocked it out for a throw-in. Kimura joined Pablo Mastroeni and Wells Thompson to work the ball on the ground amid tight pressure, and Kimura curled a cross into the goalmouth. Omar Cummings streaked to the ball first and froze goalkeeper Jon Busch. What do you call it? A missed flick? A dummy?
“We call that the two-for-one,” San Jose coach Frank Yallop said after the game. “If you whip it in and people are running across, it leaves you flat-footed. It’s a good ball in a dangerous area.”
Call it a goal. Call it a ticket to the MLS Cup Final. The 17,779 fans roared their approval and maintained their heated enthusiasm until the final whistle.
The Earthquakes started immediately with hard challenges and aggressive attacking. Ward worked his way up the left wing in the fifth minute, and Geovanni forced Matt Pickens to make the first save of the game. Although this turned out to be the only shot on goal for the visitors all night, San Jose stayed competitive until the very end.
“We had a good 20-25 minutes in the second half,” Yallop recounted, noting a boost when he inserted Arturo Alvarez for Chris Leitch in the 57th minute. “It’s not the personnel coming off. It’s who comes on. Our boys played well. They never buckled, never got down on each other.”
The after-shocks from the first shot of the game transitioned to Colorado. Cummings raced up the middle of the field with the ball in the seventh minute and fired a worm-burner from 25 yards out. Busch collected his first of five saves for the night.
Scott Sealy read an outlet pass from Pickens in the 12th minute and lofted the ball over the bar as the Colorado ‘keeper retreated.
Brian Mullan weighted a near-perfect through-ball to Cummings in the 22nd minute, but Busch left his line in time and blocked the shot at the top of the penalty box.
Conor Casey overcame multiple defenders and sent three shots wide left in the first 30 minutes of play. Casey sent his fourth shot wide left as well, another header in the 78th minute. For the night, Casey ran hard with and without the ball, forcing the visitors to contend with his challenges instead of creating attacks of their own.
Marvell Wynne had a seven-minute stretch in the first half when he was in the defensive spotlight, clearing balls with his head and feet in dangerous situations. Head coach Gary Smith has settled on a starting back line with Wynne and Moor in the middle, Kimura on the right, and Anthony Wallace on the left.
When asked how they would defend against Dallas or the gaLAxy, Wynne said, “We’ll do what we always do. It’s seems to be working. Why change it?”
In recent games, Smith has inserted central defender Julien Baudet for the closing minutes.
“You know they’re going to drop in long balls,” Wynne said. “So it’s smart to bring in a big guy like Julien.”
“He’s a great communicator,” Moor said of Baudet. “At the end of the game, a lot of guys are tired. If you bring in a guy like him, he talks constantly and keeps the intensity up. It’s been nice the last couple games.”
Replacing Jamie Smith on the flank, Thompson delivered corner kicks for Colorado, stayed back on defense when Kimura overlapped, and created danger with the ball.
When asked about his preparation for the game, Thompson said, “As a player, you have to be mentally ready. I didn’t know until about an hour before game time.” Smith left practice early on Friday, and after the Scottish midfielder conducted a brief test before kickoff, Thompson received his assignment.
“Omar opens it up down wide,” Thompson explained. “And Kosuke does his thing. So I stayed back a bit too.”
Rather than race down the wing with the ball, Thompson tends to swerve inside. “I grew up playing center mid,” the midfielder said, “so I tend to drift in and slash.”
Captain Mastroeni drifted and slashed his fair share, forcing saves from Busch in the 63rd and 73rd minutes. Tactically, Mastroeni has made a conscious effort to push forward more in recent games, while maintaining his trademark presence with Jeff Larentowicz as defensive midfielders.
But according to Moor, the captain brings much more than tactics and skill.
“Pablo has been the heart of the team this year,” Moor explained. “He’s been on a mission, and everyone has followed him.”
“Both teams are tough,” Moor explained. “Dallas plays fast, and LA is very dangerous. They play finesse and can catch you sleeping.”
Mastroeni will be wide awake. According to Colorado’s leader, “We’ve played well against the best teams in the league. So regardless of who we play, it’s going to be a great game.”