COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – Five days ago, Pablo Mastroeni was not exactly at his happiest in the Colorado Rapids locker room.
His team had frittered away a 2-0 lead in stoppage time and allowed Real Salt Lake to salvage a draw in the last game of the regular season.
But on Thursday night, after the Rapids defeated the Columbus Crew 1-0 in the first leg of the Eastern Conference Semifinals, life was looking a lot better.
WATCH: FULL MATCH HIGHLIGHTS
Mastroeni, who equaled Chris Henderson’s record 16 playoff appearances for Colorado, scored the only goal of the game in the 23rd minute
“It was crazy and I think I lost my mind a bit in the locker room after the last game [against RSL],” Mastroeni said. “This time around, it was nice and calm. There was an air of confidence in the locker room. We knew what we had to … find a way to get in the game early, and we did that.
The best period of the game for the Rapids was the final 30 minutes of the first half, when Omar Cummings and Conor Casey were at their strongest and caused disarray in the Crew defense.
The two had combined several times before playing an integral part in Mastroeni’s goal. The tally came after Casey stepped over a Cummings cross from the right and the ball found its way to Mastroeni, who had initially won the ball in midfield.
The Rapids, however, couldn’t keep up their dominating performance of the first half as the Crew tightened their defense and enjoyed the rub of the green more.
“I thought, the first half, we made our best chances and I was a little disappointed we didn’t extend our lead before the break,” said Colorado head coach Gary Smith. “In the second half, they made the game tighter and a bit more competitive and had probably their best spell themselves in that second period."
Mastroeni said it was hard to pin down why Colorado couldn’t maintain the momentum of that first half period in the second 45 minutes.
“A couple of bad balls on our part kind of flipped the momentum,” he said. “A couple of good balls on their part [threw] us on our heels. They did a lot more to pick up loose balls in the second half, battling a bit more. We are just grateful we held on and battled for the 90 minutes.”
While Smith was happy with the result, he felt the team should have walked away with more goals.
“We deserved the win and probably, on the balance of chances, deserved to be a tad more in front in this tie than we are,” he said. “The advantage at this point, I’m pleased with.”
With the first leg won and a one-goal advantage gained, the Rapids’ focus now turns to the return leg in Columbus on Nov. 6.
“We are just glad to do the job we have done at home,” Mastroeni said. “Our focus won’t drop and it will be really strong preparing for the next game.
“We will try to find a way to control the rhythm of the game [at Columbus] and find a way to score. We have to get our mindset right and go there to win.”
Ready to Launch: MLS Matchday 2010, The new official MLS iPhone app. It's FREE! Download it here!