Sure, there were weak patches, and a healthy, 90-minute performance from Omar Cummings might have made a significant difference, but United's compact 4-4-2 did a reasonable job of containing what can be an explosive Rapids offense. In fact, when Cummings came on, I was pretty sure we were in for a repeat of the standard "play well but give it up late" performance. Despite some early threats, that never materialized. United rode their luck a little, but considering how little they've had this year, that in and of itself was surprising.
At this point, it's all about evaluating who stays and who goes. So, for a change of pace, let's go player-by-player, shall we?
Allsopp - I can't see the back of him quickly enough. Sure, he was in the right place at the right time to flick home the winner, but that ignores the two earlier goals he might have had: the Boskovic cross that Allsopp's "granny with a walker" pace was unable to get to and the one-on-one that he dribbled right into Pickens. It also ignores the number of times he killed attacks by trying to dribble defenders or making poor passes. It's a sad thing to see a series of one- and two-touch passes navigate the midfield only to hit the brick wall of Allsopp and crumble. And would it kill him to hustle on defense?
Hernandez - Despite the flopping, I'm impressed by his technique and defensive work rate in putting pressure on defenders (sadly unassisted by Allsopp). He combines well with others and would certainly benefit from an attacking partner with the speed to stretch the defense vertically and open space in front of an opponent's back four. A little off-season work on staying on his feet, and we might have a gem.
Najar - Our constant bright spot. Set up a chance that even Allsopp couldn't blow. Pretty much our only flicker of attacking quickness. Which makes me wonder...Why push Quaranta up top when you're sitting deep and looking to counter? Surely Najar's trickery on the ball and speed would do more to worry the opposition and keep them honest at the back? Of course, maybe somebody on the bench realized that Tino's less likely to have what he considers shooting opportunities from 40 yards or hit monster through balls to nowhere if he's up top?
Quaranta - Still frustrating. Given the rest of the midfield's focus on maintaining possession and playing sharp, short, quick touches, Quaranta's impatience becomes even more glaring...except when it's not. And therein lies the frustration I speak of. Every once in a while, the risky play pays off and makes you reconsider whether all of the failures were worth that one moment. But oh that heavy first touch...
Boskovic - Solid player with a fair amount of guile, but not bringing the DP-worthy goods. A DP worth his salt takes that chance storming into the box and at least puts it on frame. That said, he combines well with the rest of midfield and serves a pretty good dead ball. Worth the investment? I'm still willing to see what he can bring in a second season.
Morsink - I've blown hot-and-cold on Morsink, but he had a decent game, playing simple passes to maintain possession and contributing a few efforts from distance. Even his jawing at the refs and opposition was restrained. I wonder if he would have been more exposed defensively if Colorado still possessed a between-the-lines central creative threat like Belouchi or weren't so intent on exploiting the flanks?
Graye - Still needs major seasoning. His positioning goes out the window on occasion, and his crossing is downright Hejduk-ian. Despite those failings, the physical tools are there. Can coaching prevail and turn him into a reliable back or is he another Marvell Wynne?
McTavish - I was certain he was going to be the point of failure for much of the first half, but Mullan never quite won the battle, or when he did, there was cover. Zayner's turn at centerback says to me that he's a far better option as a utility defender than McTavish. Does McTavish's ability to play multiple spots in midfield still make him a useful asset? Perhaps. But I, for one, would let him find his level in the lower divisions. He hasn't been good enough for a few years now, and it's a wonder he's still clinging, barnacle-like, to the bottom of this roster.
Zayner - Not a bad turn in the middle for a fullback, and that versatility to play well across the entire back line has me firmly considering him for the protected list. At this point, with everybody healthy, I'd pencil him in as a starter at right back.
Jakovic - Good in the air, tracked back well on the one occasion when the Rapids pushed a ball into space behind the back line. Most important? Didn't make any bone-headed decisions or keep the ball too long in defense. Sadly, that meant we also only saw one Kaiser-esque carry out of defense as well, but I think you take that tradeoff given this season's defensive woes.
Perkins - Much-maligned, but he had a pretty good outing here. Held onto shots from distance, came confidently for crosses and free kicks, and generally looked to have some of the confidence he's been lacking this season. Still gets paid too much, but this was the Perkins that we signed up for when the FO traded the farm for a reliable netminder.
Varela - Meh? I don't see anything here to get excited about.
Junior - Not enough time for an impression.
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So what to take from this match? Clearly, the team still has some fight in it, despite the trail of tears this season has turned into. Of course, by contrast, Colorado didn't seem to be too up for this game. Still, that ignores the fact that United controlled possession on the road in a place they normally struggle against one of the hotter teams in the league. With more pace to stretch the defense and more reliable finishing, this one may have been put to bed by halftime, preventing what seemed to be an inevitable Rapids' recovery. Fortunately, in what must qualify as a minor miracle in United's 2010, that recovery never materialized.