COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Colorado Rapids coaching staff and front office were pale and drained after the drama of Saturday’s playoff aggregate win against the Columbus Crew. The players, by contrast, were dancing with elation to Madonna in the visitors’ locker room.
Despite losing the game 2-1 over the regular 90 minutes, Conor Casey’s 84th-minute goal from an Omar Cummings cross was enough to tie the series up on aggregate. The Rapids converted all of their five penalties before the Crew’s Brian Carroll blasted over the bar and the series was won.
Colorado will now host the San Jose Earthquakes in the Eastern Conference championship game on Saturday, Nov. 13 at 9:30 p.m. ET (FSC).
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The Rapids endured a torrid first 20 minutes of the second leg when wave after wave of Crew attacks looked ever more likely to lead to a goal.
That goal did eventually come through Eddie Gaven in the 22nd minute, but, just a few minutes later, Jeff Larentowicz crashed a long-distance shot against the Crew crossbar and game's momentum changed.
“We knew they were going to come at us like that,” Larentowicz told MLSsoccer.com after the game. “I think [his shot] gave us a sense of belief that they do have a goal down there and we can score.”
Head coach Gary Smith said it proved crucial that the Crew were only able to score the one goal after their dominance of the opening period. The Rapids were then able to finish the first half well and continued that momentum into the second 45 minutes.
Smith described the second half as a “completely different story” with the Rapids gaining the upper hand, a fact that made the Crew’s second-half goal all the more disappointing.
“It was extremely demoralizing,” Smith said. “I think we were able to stifle the majority of the Crew’s creative edge after the first 20 minutes. The big disappointment was when they scored.”
Colorado ended up playing a very aggressive 3-5-2 formation with Claudio Lopez and Macoumba Kandji coming on to add to the attack. It was Kandji’s pass to Omar Cummings that lead to Casey’s well-taken goal.
“We stuck with it and we were stoked to get a late one,” Casey said. “Omar got out wide, beat his man, hit a great ball across the box. I was able to get in front of the defender a bit and I got my toe on it.”