Rapids have embraced who they are, now they’re winning

The Colorado Rapids reversed course on Saturday night and used some late-game heroics of their own to claim their second win in a row and their third straight at home. Tied 1-1 in in the 86th minute against the Columbus Crew, super-sub Alan Gordon finally got his first goal for the Rapids when he got his head on a cross from Josh Gatt and put the ball in the back of the net.

The Rapids had been victim of late-game goals many times this year. On April 15, against rival Real Salt Lake, they had a one-goal lead in the 85th minute. Then, Yura Movsisyan sent home a penalty kick, and in the 88th minute Brooks Lennon won it for RSL with a strip from outside the box. A week later, a goal in the 72nd minute from Miguel Ibarra made the Rapids 1-0 losers. Then, on May 5, Brek Shea broke the hearts of Rapids faithful in the 83rd minute and the Vancouver Whitecaps left Dick’s Sporting Goods Park 1-0 winners.

But it was the Rapids who stole one on Saturday. The goal from Gordon wasn’t the only clutch moment in the game. In fact, the Rapids were actually down 1-0 in the 80th minute. It was then that Marlon Hairston flashed forward from his right fullback position and played a low ball into the box for Kevin Doyle, who slid and sent it home to tie the game at one. Then, Alan Gordon did his thing.

“It’s never giving up – that’s all it is,” Gordon said on his proclivity for late goals. “Having faith that it’s going to come. When people think the game is over, I’m not thinking that way. It doesn’t happen all the time, but if you keep fighting it does happen from time to time.”

It isn’t a coincidence that Gordon used the phrase that has become the Rapids’ mantra. ‘Keep Fighting’ is a mentality that the team has fully embraced. After last week’s grinding win against Sporting Kansas City, a fired-up Pablo Mastroeni relished the Rapids return to the style of play that brought them to the Western Conference finals in 2016. He noted that the Rapids had played pretty games this year, and the they had lost those games. Saturday’s win, while not pretty, supports Mastroeni’s belief that the Rapids must embrace who they are and embrace the style of play that has brought them success.

The win becomes even more impressive considering that the Rapids were without three of their top defenders, their starting goalkeeper and one of their starting defensive midfielders. They started two MLS rookies on the back line in Mike da Fonte and Kortne Ford, and all they did was hold one of the best offensive teams in the entire league to a paltry one goal. After the game, Mastroeni praised the play of his young and inexperienced back line.

“What I really want to speak to is the character of the group. Losing a couple of players, a backline that has very little experience, zero experience playing together and doing a really great job maintaining one of the most prolific attacks in the league,” Mastroeni said. “The guys that came in changed the game for the good, the guys that started the game worked their tails off and put themselves in good positions to win the game. It’s the same old story for me, when you believe in each other and when you believe in the group, good things happen. I could not be more proud to be the leader of this group.”

The Rapids are still in last place in the Western Conference, but they are only one point behind the likes of RSL and Minnesota United, and they have three games in hand and one game in hand on those teams, respectively. They trail the eighth-place defending MLS Cup champion Seattle Sounders by only three points and have a game in hand on them as well. What’s more is that the Rapids have a better goal differential than both RSL and Minnesota by a long shot.

Despite a bad start to the season, the Rapids are finally starting to hit their stride. They’ve started to make Dick’s Sporting Good’s Park into a fortress once more, something that Mastroeni stressed is important to the team’s success all season long. They’ve won the first two games of their four-game homestead against two of the best teams in MLS. They’ll soon get Nana Adjei-Boateng, Axel Sjoberg and Jared Watts back from injury. Bobby Burling will be eligible for selection next week after serving a one-game suspension. Tim Howard will return to the net in the Rapids’ next game.

The story has become this: The Rapids have found success when they’ve embraced who they are. They are a defensive team that withstands onslaughts from opponents and takes advantage of counters when the opponent gets too aggressive. When the Rapids try to play pretty, they lose. When they grind, fight and stand together, they get results. Their next chance at a result comes in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup against the USL side Oklahoma City Energy on June 13 at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park.