Tommy Smith, newly signed center back for the Colorado Rapids, celebrated his 28th birthday in style on Saturday night. He and the Rapids defeated the Philadelphia Union 3-0, securing their first win of the 2018 regular season.
Philadelphia came into the match having conceded zero goals through the first two games of the season. Dominique Badji ensured that would not last for a third game. Badji stole the show, scoring his first career hat trick, with two goals coming within eight minutes of each other, and receiving man of the match honors. His first goal came on a precision assist from Tommy Smith. Smith headed Jack Price’s outswinging corner kick down to Badji, who flicked his left foot through the ball into the top left corner.
Badji secured the hat trick in the 87th minute. A hat trick hadn’t been secured by a Rapids player since Sanna Nyassi in July of 2011. Philadelphia (1-1-1) suffered their first loss of the season and is now winless in 13 straight games away from Talen Energy Stadium. Badji’s three goals and the Rapids shutout gave them the largest margin of victory of any MLS team this weekend. Badji spoke on the adjustments made from last weekend when they let a 2-0 lead slip away in an eventual draw to Sporting Kansas City.
“Just the mentality,” Badji said. “We let the lead slip last week and it really hurt us and it left a sour taste in our mouth that we really did not want to have again this weekend, so we made sure we did everything possible to not have that happen again.”
Smith also spoke on the adjustments made in order to not only acquire a lead but maintain a lead and maintain a clean sheet.
“The desire to defend [was there tonight],” Smith said. “We had a number of blocks in the end, and it’s been a long time coming. We limited them to half chances tonight whereas last week against Kansas, we offered up too many clear-cut chances. We’ve been working hard in training on defensive shape and attacking shape [and] both paid dividends tonight.”
Smith, who had a key assist on Saturday to along with multiple clearances and duels won, is becoming a dual threat on the pitch. His offensive presence was also felt last week when he assisted newcomer Joe Mason on his MLS debut goal. Smith received a pass from Edgar Castillo on the left flank near the midfield line. Smith patiently waited for the ball, letting it roll further into Sporting Kansas City’s attacking area, drawing in opposing players. At the last possible moment, Smith sent in a long ball over the top to Mason who was onside and beautifully finished the solo effort:
? Goal just a few minutes into his @MLS debut? Casual from Joe Mason.
— Colorado Rapids (@ColoradoRapids) March 25, 2018
It’s not often you see defensive players, particularly center backs, contribute and create often on the offensive end. Smith discussed his effectiveness on both sides of the ball as well as his confidence from an attacking standpoint.
“Every time I go in the box for set pieces, I fancy myself to score,” Smith said. “I should have scored myself but, luckily enough today, Badji was on hand to tap in.”
Rapids head coach Anthony Hudson praised Smith and his production on both ends of the pitch in the Rapids’ 3-5-2 formation.
“We play three center backs and we want them to be quite positive in possession,” Hudson explained. “Tommy [is] very good on the ball. He’s a good passer of the ball, very composed. How many times have long balls come into him when most defenders would clear it and he’s just taken a touch and passed it down or [he’s] cushion headed it? He’s been a great signing for us; leader, good character, he has shown tonight the type of player he is.”
The Colorado Rapids (1-1-1) move into seventh place in the Western Conference and look to continue their winning ways on the road against FC Dallas this Saturday. The Rapids will look to secure their first win agains the Toros since April 10, 2015.