By IVES GALARCEP
The Colorado Rapids fell short last week in their quest for their first win of the 2013 season, but Saturday they played like a team that wouldn’t let anything deny them. Not a questionable penalty call. Not a the rash of injuries that decimated their starting lineup. Not the arch-rival that was favored to keep them winless.
Clint Irwin turned in another stellar goalkeeping performance while Atiba Harris provided the winning goal to help the Rapids beat Real Salt Lake, 1-0, at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park on Saturday.
Irwin recorded three saves, none bigger than his save on an Alvaro Saborio penalty kick in the eighth minute, to record the shutout on a night when RSL’s attack looked nowhere near as dangerous as it did a week earlier in a 2-1 win vs. the Seattle Sounders.
“It’s awesome,” Irwin said of Colorado’s first win of the season. “We’ve been pushing hard for three points. I think the fans can see that we’re trying hard, we’re really pushing, trying to put something good together. It finally came together tonight. Clean sheet, great goal that we scored, and I think we can build on this and push forward.”
The Rapids turned in their most complete performance of the season, an impressive development considering the number of regular starters missing due to injuries. Martin Rivero, Pablo Mastroeni, Matt Pickens, Jaime Castrillon, Diego Calderon and Kevin Harbottle were all sidelined, but Colorado didn’t play like a team missing half a team’s worth of starters.
Veterans like Harris and Nick LaBrocca, as well as youngsters Deshorn Brown, Dillon Powers and Shane O’Neill, came together to keep RSL from ever really getting a grip on a match they came in as favorites to win.
“The young guys came out with another big game,” Rapids head coach Oscar Pareja said. “I say jokingly about the injuries, but you know it’s having people [unavailable] and the other ones came up and show they can put a lot of things on the pitch for us. All these things are important.”
No injury replacement was more impressive than Irwin, who stepped up to stop a Saborio penalty kick after a very questionable penalty call against Powers for a foul on Kyle Beckerman. Irwin dove to his left to parry away Saborio’s spot kick.
“Leading up to this week, [goalkeeper coach] Chris Sharpe always gives us the scouting report on the penalty takers, and I had a pretty good idea of what Saborio was going to do and how he takes his penalties,” Irwin said. “Especially after the foul, you just kind of want to say that the ball never lies.”
Real Salt Lake held the edge in possession but failed to create enough quality chances, leading to the addition of Javier Morales at halftime as the Argentine playmaker continues to work his way back into the RSL lineup following surgery in the offseason.
Saborio had several chances to equalize in the second half but was consistently off target and never seemed to regain his confidence after the early missed penalty opportunity.
Here are the match highlights: