Brian Jennings from Dick’s Sporting Goods Park — Once again the Rapids spent the first half biding their time, holding their opponent at bay, and then striking late for a record 14th consecutive unbeaten game, thanks to a beautiful curling shot from Marlon Hairston.
Sporting Kansas City eventually tired in the thin air at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, and Colorado took advantage.
“We were cognizant of it. When you’re playing at altitude for the third game in a week, your legs are going to get heavy, your lungs are going to go,” ex-Rapids midfielder and current SKC starter Jacob Peterson told Current of Colorado. “I think around the 70-minute mark that kind of hit us and we lost our way a bit.
“It was a tough game,” Peterson continued. “It was a pretty ‘nothing’ game, honestly, up to that point. A lot of MLS games that are played like that come out 0–0, so we’re disappointed to give up the late goal. Overall, I don’t think we necessarily deserved to lose.”
Colorado took advantage in the latter stages as they tend to do at home this season. With the league’s leading defense, the Rapids can usually make a lone strike like Hairston’s stand up for points, which they did for the season sweep of Sporting for the first time.
“With the ebb and flow of the game, you go through phases where maybe they’re on top of the game, we don’t have as much of the ball as we like — just different things,” explained defender Jared Watts.
“That communication is key because for us if we’re defending in a ‘Back 6’ as a group, we’re pretty hard to break down. We just have to make sure that when we do have the ball, we know what kind of guys they are — dynamic guys running forward to space — we had to be aware of that.”
The first half was a back-and-forth slugfest with neither team really getting a leg up or much of a clear shot on goal. But as the scoreless situation endured in the second half, the effort amped up, and play became much more deliberate in buildup. “We’ve got to be confident in playing the ball out,” said Watts bluntly. “You’ve got to just feel out the game. We always want to come in at halftime making a precedent of being tied or up a goal.
“We had our success when we were winning the ball higher up the field. Once we were able to break their pressure and kind of find that higher guy and lay the ball back, then the third man running through… I felt we created some good chances. We know with that crowd behind us, at altitude, if we’re putting our foot on the pedal and going and forcing the game we have a distinct advantage.”
When Marlon Hairston replaced Marco Pappa in the 62nd minute, he put both feet on the pedal and jettisoned the Sporting KC defense with a number of deep runs. Then he hit a Goal-of-the-Week candidate in the 78th minute after being stuffed earlier on the night. “You see the goal where it came from — it came from Marlon picking off the pass,” Watts acknowledged. “Then we’re able to run into space and obviously a great goal.”
Watts admitted that the second-half surges aren’t necessarily planned, but every Rapids player to a man believes it’s coming and they are never out of a match. “Everybody in the locker room believes it. It’s pretty fun to be a part of.”
Video Note: Listen to Pablo explain how Marlon Hairston finds a way to work the seams between spaces opponents provide. Hairston heisted an Ike Opara pass in the 78th minute with a single touch to Dillon Powers, who knocked it back to Hairston on the run forward. The 22-year-old from Jackson, Mississippi cut back to his right foot and bent the ball around Tim Melia for the 1–0 game-winner.