In the Colorado Rapids’ first real chance in 2017 to gauge how they stack up to the top talent in the MLS, the team didn’t fair well. They lost 1-0 to the New York Red Bulls, but if it wasn’t for an astounding performance by surprise starter Tim Howard, the game would have been much more ugly.
The Rapids wasted a golden opportunity to begin to prove that the 2016 season wasn’t a fluke. The Red Bulls finished in third place in the MLS last season, just behind the Rapids with 57 points. They also returned a potent attack with 2016 leading scorer Bradley Wright-Phillips and the 2016 leader in assists Sacha Kljestan both returning to New York. It would have been quite a statement win for the Rapids. Instead, they made quite another statement.
The Rapids’ vaunted defense was nowhere to be found. Howard was time and time again forced to make acrobatic saves when the Red Bulls broke the back line. He ended up saving all seven shots that the Red Bulls put on net. The Rapids’ defense was in fact the only reason the Red Bulls got on the board. Just before the first half ended, a cross played in by the Red Bulls was kicked behind Howard by none other than his teammate Eric Miller.
Howard is probably the most upset Rapid of them all. He was going against the club he started his career with, and he was going against the goalkeeper who led the league in shutouts last year. Luis Robles of the Red Bulls had 11 shutouts in 2016, four more than Howard. However, Robles started all 34 games for the Red Bulls, while Howard played in 17. Add that to the fact that Howard and Zac MacMath’s combined shutouts add to 13, two more than the league leader. It was a goalkeeper duel from the get-go, and Robles only just prevailed. To be fair, it’s doubtful that he’d have pitched a shutout if he faced the shots that Howard did.
While the Rapids did not perform well, there are positives to take away from the game. Dominique Badji had another good performance, and Marlon Hairston was as aggressive as he was in the season opener. Shkëlzen Gashi was able to make it on the field for the first time in 2017 when he subbed in for Dillon Powers in the 72nd minute, and Nana Boateng made his MLS debut, albeit in extra time.
Something to not is that striker Kevin Doyle was out for the match because of migraines, and Gashi again didn’t start due to achilles issues. The attack was noticeably flat, but it was without the Rapids’ two main attackers.
So the Rapids lost. The offense played a mediocre game without two of its biggest factors, and the defense was not up to the Rapids’ standard. As always, the goalkeeping was phenomenal. While there is much to improve on moving forward, the sky is not falling. The team will get key players back for their tilt against Minnesota FC at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park next Saturday, where they haven’t lost a regular season game since 2015.