Lalas Abubakar’s offensive prowess has popped up in surprising positions a few times this season.
None have been bigger than late Saturday night, when he flicked in an 82nd-minute equalizing goal against arch rivals Real Salt Lake in the second leg of the Rocky Mountain Cup in Sandy, Utah.
The game finished 2-2 and RSL retained the Cup, but the Rapids fought back from a two-goal second-half deficit and earned a hard-earned point.
Colorado (5-8-5) brought a never-say-die attitude into the match, even after losing two key players to the transfer market this week in Mark-Anthony Kaye and Auston Trusty. Despite being seven points below the playoff line, Abubakar, who scored the equalizer in the first leg of the RMC, exemplified spirit needed to move up the table.
“Lalas, for a center back has a really, really good sense of where to be in the attack and attacking set pieces and he’s relentless in front of the opponent’s goal,” Rapids head coach Robin Fraser said. “… ‘Never say die’ is an understatement for Lalas.”
The stats all pointed one direction: zero points when the team trailed with 25 minutes to go. Abubakar’s third goal of the season changed that, as the Rapids had previously been 0-8-0 on the road, and are now 0-8-1. With 16 games left in the season, players realize there’s lots of work to be done to get back in the playoff picture, but it’s a start.
“We showed a lot of character as a team,” said Sam Nicholson, who was re-introduced to MLS with a strong 60-minute performance. “Robin said at halftime, ‘Go out and show some character, go out and show you want to win.’ I think we’ve done that. I know results haven’t been going our way, but we just proved that we’re hanging around and aren’t giving up.”
Colorado created the best chance of the half in the 45th minute. A ball was crossed in from Jonathan Lewis. It fell to the 21-year-old Brazilian rookie, Max. He took an extra touch and RSL players pounced to close the space and his shot dragged an inch wide of the post.
Not long after, Anderson Savarino had space and struck a low-driven shot that found the bottom left corner to beat William Yarbrough and make it 1-0 at the end of stoppage time. It was the third goal the Rapids gave up in first half stoppage time in 2022.
In the 51st minute, Bryan Acosta was shown a yellow card, which resulted in a dangerous set piece for RSL. Pablo Ruiz struck a brilliant shot from 30 yards out which hit the crossbar. The Rapids got caught ball watching, again. Substitute Justin Meram pounced first and tapped the ball home to make it 2-0.
“It’s the whole team understanding what danger looks like, how we need to keep ourselves out of those situations,” Fraser said. “… I completely agree we’re giving up soft goals, but, if we eliminate that it completely changes the trajectory.”
Staring down another road loss, the Rapids had to find a response. Substitute Michael Barrios proved to be a spark off the bench again. In the 65th minute, just four minutes after he subbed on, Barrios drove into the box and an RSL defender slid through him and a penalty was given. Diego Rubio sent MacMath the wrong way and coolly slotted the penalty kick into the bottom left-hand corner to cut the deficit in half at 2-1.
With the temperature around 90 degrees in Salt Lake at kickoff and still hot during the match, the teams had a hydration break, which doubled as a last-minute tactics session from Fraser. The quick adjustments paid off, with Abubakar getting forward to find the equalizer. Also notable, 18-year-old Dantouma “Yaya” Toure had his longest stint of the season as he played the last 10 minutes.
The Rapids will have a pair of home matches this week: 7 p.m. Wednesday against Orlando City, and 7 p.m. Saturday against LA Galaxy.