Saturday night started off with a bit of an odd feeling at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. It was a paltry crowd of under 11,000 on a gorgeous Colorado night free of snow and freezing temperatures. Drew Moor and Clint Irwin marched onto the field from the opposing locker room entrance, and Toronto FC went down to 10 men in the 13th minute when Benoit Cheyrou earned his second yellow card.
After the strange start, forward Luis Solignac brought 1,270 minutes of personal frustration to an end with his first career Rapids goal in the 18th minute.
Starting up top in place of injured Kevin Doyle, “Lucho” explained that he’s a different player than the Irishman, but the expectations are the same for both. “Score goals and stretch the line,” Solignac told Current of Colorado. “Stay deep in the defense to allow [Shkelzin] Gashi, [Marco] Pappa, [Dillon] Powers to get the ball in the middle. Not so much holding the ball but running behind all the time. Kevin is more of a stronger guy, and I am more of a running guy.”
Running from the start, Solignac was narrowly caught offsides early in the game. But he timed his break to perfection as Marco Pappa lofted a ball over the defense for Solignac to bring down deftly with his right foot. Lucho took a touch and hammered a shot past Irwin for the 1–0 lead.
Here’s the sequence of the goal, captured by John Babiak.
After Lucho’s goal, the Rapids had to raise their work effort to keep a dangerous Toronto FC midfield and reigning MLS MVP Sebastian Giovinco off the scoreboard. Despite playing with a man advantage for the next 70-plus minutes, Colorado scrambled to protect the 1–0 lead.
“If you want to win games like this one, you have to work really, really hard, and the level has to be so high because it is difficult,” explained Solignac. “As you see, we were controlling the game. Then in the second half we had some problems. [Toronto] got tired in the second half, so we had to hold the ball a little bit more. We are really happy with this win and have to continue on this road.”
Central defenders Axel Sjöberg and Bobby Burling had their hands full on the night with Giovinco darting around the final third. Then Jozy Altidore added headaches when he entered the game at the hour mark. However, Rapids defensive midfielders Michael Azira and Sam Cronin were instrumental in adding protection for the back line while Marc Burch and Eric Miller manned the flanks.
“We knew that going in, we even thought [Altidore] would start for a while,” Sjöberg said. “But we knew he would be a factor later in the game. We know that Giovinco is even more dangerous when Altidore is in the game because he takes up so much attention himself. With that in mind, Bobby and I had to be extra careful and get the outside backs even closer to us and make sure that the second ball, when Altidore tries to bring it down, we have the midfielders in front of us screening. Both Sam and Mike did a great job of that.”
“It helps us out so much, especially when you’re playing someone like a Giovinco who’s maybe the best player in the league. Being able to cover the space and screen the forwards really helps out,” said Sjöberg, admitting this truly was a team effort. “We made sure that the outside backs helped out and the other guys in front of us helped out too, so honestly for me it was a lot of directing traffic today.”
Giovinvo showed his skill as he tried to turn, wiggle, and dive if any contact came in order to throw off Burling and Sjöberg. “We worked on it during the week, and it’s a lot of denying him the opportunity to get the ball. We tried to limit his touches, limit the ball he had tonight. The way we did it was just to double up — me and Bobby,” said a relieved Sjöberg.