COMMERCE CITY - Major League Soccer’s first Thanksgiving game produced a result that was tough to swallow for the Colorado Rapids.
“Football, sometimes, can be cruel,” Rapids captain Jack Price said after a 1-0 loss to the Portland Timbers ended the Rapids season Thursday at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. “Today, it’s shown that.”
After producing most of the quality scoring chances in the first 89 minutes, the Rapids were eliminated from the MLS Cup playoffs on a late goal.
Portland defender Larrys Mabiala scored the game’s only goal in the final minute of regular time. The Timbers earned a late corner kick, although Rapids goalkeeper William Yarbrough lobbied for a goal kick. Colorado’s Kellyn Acosta deflected the corner kick into the air. The ball bounced around a bit before Mabiala lunged and volleyed the ball into goal.
“It was one of those things that at times you can’t really control,” Rapids coach Robin Fraser said. “It’s just becomes a crapshoot in the middle of the box.”
The late strike silenced a near-sellout crowd of 17,438 that decided to spend the holiday with the Rapids and gave the team an early boost.
“We would’ve loved to give them something more to cheer about, but it was the best atmosphere I’ve seen inside this stadium,” Fraser said.
The Rapids had four minutes of stoppage time to find an equalizer and had a man advantage after Portland’s Dairon Asprilla was shown a straight red card in added time. The Rapids' last chance came when Lalas Abubakar played a ball into Portland’s penalty area. It nearly skipped past Timbers goalkeeper Steve Clark, who recovered in time to scoop up the ball.
“I feel like we deserved to go through tonight, but like I said, that’s football. Especially the first half, I thought we played really well. That was probably some of the best stuff we played this season,” Price said.
The Rapids dominated the first half from a statistical standpoint, owning advantages in shots (9-2), shots on goal (3-0), possession (57.2%-42.8%) and corner kicks (5-2), but failed to produce a go-ahead goal. Price picked out defender Auston Trusty on an early corner kick, but Trusty’s header went just wide in the sixth minute. Clark made saves to deny Dominqiue Badji and Cole Bassett from close range later in the first half. Clark’s best work of the first 45 minutes came in the 38th minute when Kellyn Acosta’s cross found Badji around the six-yard box only for Clark to make a quick reaction save.
“I felt like we had them under a ton of pressure in the first half,” Fraser said. “We were unfortunate not to get one during that time period. Then in the second half, I think we lost a little bit of control which also helped them gain confidence and grow into the game.”
The Timbers nearly had a goal in the 65th minute, but Rapids center back Danny Wilson slid for a goal-line clearance. Yimmi Chara nearly put the visitors in front in the 84th minute, but his run was just late. Portland finished with a 12-10 advantage in shots and put four attempts on goal to Colorado’s three.
“Unfortunately, we didn’t probably create as much in the second half as we would like,” Price said. “Overall, I still felt like we had enough in both halves to win tonight. Sometimes that’s football.”
The missed opportunities in the first half and the late goal saw Colorado’s season end earlier than the club hoped after finishing the regular season atop the Western Conference for the first time in club history. Portland advances to the Western Conference final where it will play the winner of Real Salt Lake and Sporting Kansas City.
“Extremely proud of the season as a whole, but it just feels like we’ve let one go this year,” Price said.
The Rapids’ coach wants the club to remember the pain from Thanksgiving when the club begins preparing for the 2022 season.
“At this point, the sting needs to last,” Fraser said. “Come January 9th or 10th when we start up again, that sting needs to stay in us for the entire year with a determination that it’s going to end better next year.”