The quest for the MLS Cup began last night with a late arriving crowd, an ironic “One Goal” MLS playoff video, and a match of two teams with vastly different playoff histories and playing styles. The end result was a slightly disjointed match that put the Colorado Rapids up 1-0 over the Columbus Crew.
The atmosphere at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park was loud as a crowd of over 12,000 blew their vuvuzelas and watched the home team come away with a critical home win. At kickoff, the stands looked at best half full and while the crowd looked fuller as the match progressed, Stan Kroenke and Don Garber had to have been disappointed with the number of people they saw looking down from their box.
But two aspects of the match that were not disappointing for the Colorado faithful were the play of Omar Cummings and the Rapids’ midfielders. Columbus controlled possession for the first ten minutes of the match but failed to do anything with it as the Rapids’ defense prevented any quality scoring chances. It was Cummings who ignited the Rapids after the first few minutes by repeatedly breaking on the counter to set up the first few scoring chances. After he missed Conor Casey on a two on one break in the eleventh minute, the Rapids basically camped out near the Crew’s goal for the next 60 minutes.
Despite Cummings abusing Bryan Carroll like a punching bag in the first half, the Rapids were only able to notch one goal thanks to a great play by their captain Pablo Mastroeni. The midfielder sent a long pass to the right side of the pitch in the 23rd minute which found Cummings, who after breaking down the defense, sent in a cross that Casey whiffed but Mastroeni expertly buried in the net. Surprisingly, it was only his first MLS playoff goal but it proved to be an important one.
The statistic of the first half that tells the story is this: Colorado had 10 shots on goal, Columbus 1. The Rapids’ midfield repeatedly denied Crew star Guillermo Barros Schelotto any space to create plays and even when he did have space, he failed to take advantage. On a rare scoring opportunity in the 53rd minute, Schelotto received a pass in the box that he promptly skied over the Rapids’ net. Overall, it was a poor night from him but the Rapids’ midfield should receive a lot of credit for negating him and the Columbus attack for most of the match.
Two substitutions in the second half breathed life into Columbus and made this a match. Schelotto came off Mendoza, and the Rapids replaced Thompson (who’d had a good match) for Kadji (who subsequently did not). This led to a flurry of Crew chances to score but the keeper Pickens and some timely Colorado defending kept the visitors off the board.
So Colorado has the advantage going to Columbus next week for the second leg of this round, but both teams had to have been disappointed with the outcome. For Columbus, the club looked outclassed and outplayed almost the entire match, save a flurry of attempts late in the second half. Their star Schelotto looked old and they failed to really create quality chances. They are lucky the final score was only 1-0.
For Colorado, fans have to be happy with the win but disappointed with the result. Their margin of error next Saturday is very small and if Columbus can tweak their gameplan, it is perfectly possible that Colorado could be eliminated. And they would have no one to blame but themselves; despite a number of very good chances (mostly created by Cummings) in the first half, the team could not find that decisive second (or third) goal.
Overall, last night was a good way to begin the playoffs, but neither team looked like a challenger for the MLS Cup. I’ll chalk it up to conservative play and look forward to a more open match in the second leg.
What did you think about the match, the announcers, crowd, MLS video, etc.? Share below or on Twitter @roberthayjr.