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Late Jaqua goal, Keller frustrate Rapids

May 24, 2009 | 1:18 am No comments
By George Tanner

Conor Casey and the Colorado Rapids were stymied repeatedly by the goalkeeping of Seattle’s Kasey Keller. (photo by Jonathan Ingraham/ColoradoSoccerNow.com)


Had the Colorado Rapids known before Saturday’s match that they’d score two goals against Seattle keeper Kasey Keller, they might’ve been ecstatic.

In his first eight games of the 2009 season, Keller allowed only three goals, making 25 saves on 28 shots. He’s been nearly untouchable.

But even two goals against Keller in one game weren’t enough for the Rapids to go home happy. For the third time in a month, the team gave up a one-goal lead in a Major League Soccer fixture and settled for a draw. Against the run of play, Nate Jaqua scored in the 76th minute to lift Seattle into a 2-2 tie at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park.

“The players are very disappointed again; they made some great chances, especially in the first half,” Rapids coach Gary Smith said. “Kasey Keller has kept them in it. … It could well have ended up 4-2.”

Or maybe 5-2. Or worse. Keller’s imprint on the game started early:

— In the 24th minute, he made a sliding stop on Conor Casey. After the Seattle defense misplayed a cross by Nick LaBrocca, Keller charged hard and reached the ball, by sliding, before Casey could get a foot on it.

— In the 35th minute, Keller showed why somebody somewhere coined the term catlike.  His reflexes were as sharp as a tabby’s claws as Casey attempted a point-blank header. Keller dove to his left and, with one hand, knocked a sure goal wide. Everybody in the house knew it should’ve been a goal.

— In first-half extra time, Keller squelched what may have been the Rapids’ fastest, prettiest breakout of the season. The counterattack started with Scott Palguta at the back.  His clearance ignited a succession of passes: Pablo Mastroeni to Mehdi Ballouchy to Colin Clark to Omar Cummings. It was a joy to watch. And as it developed, the transition really seemed as if it would produce a goal. Cummings finished the play with a pass to LaBrocca, who teed up a shot, only to be stopped by Keller. 

“He did a great job standing up on LaBrocca,” Seattle coach Sigi Schmid said. “As LaBrocca was about to pull the trigger, that’s when he lept. He didn’t go down early, which a lot of goalkeepers sometimes do, especially when they’re very young and very energetic. He’s just a calm goalkeeper. He’s been in that situation many, many times before, so it makes him a good decision maker.”

— In the 70th minute, Casey dropped the ball off inside the penalty area for LaBrocca, who was charging. LaBrocca’s 12-yard hammer shot rose toward the top of the net. Keller leaped and punched the shot up and away.

At that point, the score would’ve been lopsided if not for Keller.

“There were sections of the game where they really took it to us,” Keller said. “We rode our luck. And sometimes when you don’t take advantage of the chances they are giving you, the other team builds from that. And then we steal a point out of it. Colorado was very unlucky not to beat us tonight. It’s always nice to be able to help your team out when you get a result. More often than not, goalkeepers have great games and lose 2-1 or 2-nil. So it was nice to be able to keep the team in it and be rewarded at the end with a goal to tie it up.”

Jaqua’s goal was set up by a cross from defender James Riley on the right flank to forward Fredy Montero, who headed the ball past Cory Gibbs and right to the feet of Jaqua. The goal came with center back Scott Palguta on the ground because of a cramp, and it was minutes after Kosuke Kimura replaced right back Ugo Ihemelu.

“The changes don’t help us,” Smith said. “It’s not easy to come off the bench and get into the pace of a game. But for a defender, on a greasy surface, it’s that much more difficult.”

The equalizer took the air out of a Rapids team that had dominated most of the first half and the first 30 minutes of the second half. 

“Two-1 up, there’s a fine line between getting the third goal — and really putting it out of their reach — and leaving yourself vulnerable,” Smith said. “I think we got that line slightly wrong tonight. I thought there was half of the group trying to win the game outright and the other half of the group thinking we should just hold onto it. And it gave them an opportunity to get a little bit involved in the game. I thought the goal, while it was a decent one for them, Scott Palguta’s gone down with a cramp or knee. Jaqua peels off of him and is almost free in the box. It’s very disappointing. The players have put a tremendous amount of effort into the game. I thought they deserved more.”

The Rapids fell behind in the 17th minute, when Montero headed in his own rebound off the post.

Less than 10 minutes later, Ballouchy punched a beautiful through-ball up the right wing to Cummings. He dribbled almost the whole way to the end line before slotting a tight, low pass right into traffic. Clark, moving left to right, buried a right-footed shot into the right side of the net. Keller had no chance on the bang-bang play.

Two minutes after the intermission, Casey put Colorado on top 2-1 and climbed into a tie for the league lead in goals, with six.

But Saturday’s match was more about the goals that didn’t go in than the ones that did. Credit Keller for that.

“He’s a phenomenal goalkeeper,” Schmid said. “When the game’s 1-1 and you keep us in the game and don’t allow us to go down 2-1, that keeps the guys in the game mentally. That’s the reason he’s Kasey Keller. That’s the reason he’s played so many games for the national team. That’s the reason he’s played so many years in Europe.”

MAN OF THE MATCH: Keller.

OK, ENOUGH ABOUT KELLER; WHAT ABOUT MATT PICKENS? In fact, Pickens may have had the save of the game in the 86th minute. Pickens made a huge stop on rookie Steve Zakuani, who had split the defense and wound up with the ball on a dummy by Montero. Pickens stood his ground at the top of the goal box and thrilled the crowd with a game-saving diving punch. 

BEST CROWD OF THE SEASON: Dick’s Sporting Goods Park was more than half full, despite the weather and the Nuggets’ playoff game downtown against the Lakers.

THEY GOT THE CRAZY RED BOOTS MEMO: Sounders midfielder Sebastien Le Toux and Ihemelu.

A GREAT SIGHT: Ballouchy waving his hands, asking for the ball, in teh 74th minute. He had plenty of quality touches throughout the match. It was possibly his strongest game of the year. He knew he was clicking, and his teammates could sense it, too.    

SPRINT TO THE FLAG: Nice footrace to the back right corner between Zakuani and Ihemelu. Ugo wins, 64th minute.

PABLO CALLED UP: Mastroeni has been selected to participate in training with U.S. national team in advance of World Cup qualifiers against Costa Rica and Honduras. The U.S. plays at Costa Rica on June 3 in a game that will be televised on ESPN and Galavision. On June 6, the Nats host Honduras in Chicago; this game will be live on ESPN Classic and Galavision. Mastroeni will report to the national team camp next Sunday, one day after the Rapids face the Red Bulls at Giants Stadium. 

blockquote-tiny-georgie-mug George Tanner is a former writer and editor for the Rocky Mountain News; the Greeley Tribune; The Daily Independent of Ridgecrest, Calif.; the Durango Herald; and the Boulder Daily Camera. He is a graduate of the University of Colorado and an associate professor at Metropolitan State College of Denver. E-mail him at [email protected].

To advertise on Colorado Soccer Now, e-mail Cole McGinnis at [email protected].

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