The fairytale finale was not forthcoming for the Colorado Rapids as the Supporters’ Shield slipped from their grasp on the final day of the 2016 regular season, but more firsts were confirmed as a record-breaking regular season drew to a dramatic close.
A frustrating 1-1 home tie against bottom side Houston Dynamo left the Rapids two points adrift of FC Dallas, who grabbed a goalless draw at LA Galaxy, a result which would have been enough for the Shield irrespective of the outcome at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. Still, Colorado ended most successful regular season in franchise history by earning a point, running their total to a club record 58.
“We knew coming into today’s game that it was only going to be about us,” midfielder Marlon Hairston said postgame. “We tried to give ourselves the best opportunity to get a result. We kind of disappointed ourselves last weekend in Portland, a result that we knew we needed. We knew we couldn’t control the results from the other games, we just wanted to come out and play our best game and have the momentum going in to the playoffs. That’s what it’s all about right now. We didn’t lose today, we fought back to get a big point here at home, but we are still capable of so much more. Right now it’s going to be about coming back this week with a great week of practice. We find out who we play and we get ready to go on the road and try get a good result.”
The outcome in Commerce City meant the Rapids became only the fifth team in MLS history to go an entire season undefeated at home (11-0-6). By conceding just the one goal the Rapids set a new league record for average goals against at home (0.41).
“I think it’s a pretty cool feat,” head coach Pablo Mastroeni said about the undefeated season. “It’s a reflection of the process. For us this year, the path was an undefeated season at home and a fantastic home record. As important as it was for our club, for the guys, for the locker room, for the staff, I think it was really important for our fans to see how far we’ve come. To see the work that still needs to be done, but to see it with a mentality and belief that I’ve never seen at this club. That’s a foundation you can build anything one, and, for me, that’s what I’m most proud of.”
Goaltender Tim Howard, who joined the club officially on July 4, was quick to share the credit for the team’s record-setting defense.
“I think a large part of that is Zac MacMath,” Howard said. “He was brilliant for the first half of the season. He doesn’t get enough credit. My name has been thrown around and I’ve probably gotten too much credit. This group was flying high and was fantastic, defensively it was rock-solid. It was pretty easy to slot in there, but I don’t’ think you can shortchange the impact that Zac has had on this team and has on this team.”
Despite the Rapids controlling the opening passage of play against Houston, a moment of hesitation defensively allowed the Dynamo to score for the first time in three games, with 20 minutes gone. Andrew Wenger smashed home the loose ball at the far post after Tim Howard could only parry a cross from the left.
Jared Watts, Kevin Doyle and Dominique Badji – twice – had chances to score in the opening period, but the Rapids somehow went in at the break trailing. Having looked comfortable, the Rapids were now chasing the game, and needing two goals to give themselves any chance of the Supporters’ Shield. Ahead of kickoff they needed to win and FC Dallas to lose.
Following a rather flat, nervy first half, the Rapids showed their true colors after the interval. Their dominance eventually paid off on 67 minutes when Shkëlzen Gashi scored his ninth goal of the season, but his first at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. As the game resumed, midfielder Jermaine Jones entered as a substitute for his first appearance since July 4.
Unfortunately, his presence, and the momentum of an equalizing goal was not enough for the Rapids to complete the turnaround. They can maybe count themselves a little fortunate not to have leaked at the last, with Wenger, Cristián Maidana and Will Bruin all enjoying glorious chances to shatter the unbeaten home record. At the other end, Badji bellowed to the heavens as a heavy first touch proved costly when just yards from goal in the dying moments.
A win would have been the perfect platform from which to launch their playoff push, but having Jones and Marlon Hairston healthy, and going the regular season undefeated at home is not too shabby.
Mastroeni is pleased with the momentum they’ll carry into the playoffs.
“Three points would have been optimal,” he said, “but I think the way we pushed the game in the second half, the chances we created, the ability to get the ball forward and be dangerous leaves a good taste in your mouth as far as the mentality that’s necessary to really get after teams at home. That’s positive, that’s momentum.”
The Rapids will not discover their Western Conference semifinal opponents until Wednesday or Thursday. The first leg is away next Sunday, with the return at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park on November 6.