Colorado Rapids Edge 10-Men Toronto FC For 1-0 Win

An early Luis Solignac goal was the difference as the Colorado Rapids earned a gritty 1-0 victory over Toronto FC at Dick's Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, Colorado.

With the win, the Rapids move up to third place in the Western Conference, and they have now conceded only two goals through their first four games of the season. For Toronto FC, this was their second straight road loss as they reach the midpoint of a grueling eight-game road trip to start the season. While TFC's current 1-1-2 record isn't bad considering they've played their first four fixtures on the road, head coach Greg Vanney will feel hard done by a couple of controversial calls that went against his side. Rapids manager Pablo Mastroeni will gladly take the three points, but he will be concerned that his squad could not finish off a ten-men TFC side and had to instead sweat out a victory. 

Controversial Calls Go The Rapids' Way

Over the last couple of weeks, Major League Soccer referees have been roundly criticized by teams and players for their inconsistent calls and inability to control the game. This past Friday's game between the New England Revolution and the visiting New York Red Bulls only increased the anger. 

The second half was a great example of how easy it is for a referee to lose control of a match. In today's game between the Rapids and Toronto FC, center referee Ismail Elfath and his assistant referees made two game-changing calls that baffled Toronto manager Greg Vanney and incensed his players. While referees will always be at the center of attention, the recent criticism directed at them by the Seattle Sounders and the Red Bulls will undoubtedly grow louder as referees continue to affect the outcome of games across the league.

The first of two game-changing calls that Elfath and his refereeing team made was sending off Toronto FC midfielder Benoit Cheyrou for an apparent elbow to the head of Rapids center back Bobby Burling in the 13th minute. Elfath did not hesitate in showing Cheyrou his second yellow card and subsequent red, but replays adjudged that the call was harsh for two reasons. Firstly, Cheyrou did not seem to know where Burling was when he raised his elbow to go up to head the ball, and Cheyrou didn't cock his elbow or swing it in the direction of Burling's head. While observers of the play may chastise Cheyrou for putting his elbows in an unnatural position and running the risk of earning a second yellow, even the Rapids' own color commentary team thought the call was quite harsh.

Yet one can also argue that Cheyrou should have been sent off for a challenge in the eleventh minute, two minutes before he was given his marching orders. Cheyrou earned his first yellow card after a nasty stomp on Rapids' right back Eric Miller's left foot. It was an eerily similar play to Red Bulls midfielder Felipe's challenge on Revolution midfielder Scott Caldwell this past Friday which earned Felipe a red card, and Revolution midfielder Gershon Koffie's tackle on New York City FC midfielder Tommy McNamara last weekend, which also earned Koffie a red card. The fact that two players who had made identical tackle's to Cheyrou's earned red cards while Cheyrou only earned a yellow speaks volume to the inconsistent refereeing plaguing MLS at the moment. Don't be surprised if the MLS Disciplinary Committee fines or even elongates Cheyrou's mandatory one-game suspension for his hard tackle on Miller. 

The second game-changing decision that Elfath and his refereeing crew made was to not call Luis Solignac offside when Solignac scored the game-winning goal. In the eighteenth minute, Solignac controlled a deft Marco Pappa chip pass and fired the ball past TFC goalkeeper Clint Irwin and into the net. The replays showed that Solignac was at least a half-step in front of the TFC back line when he received Pappa's pass, and since Solignac was caught offside the goal should have been waived off. Offside calls are notoriously hard for assistant referees to get right, and fans have to understand this, but Elfath and his assistant referees missed an offside call that directly determined the result of this game. Toronto FC have a right to feel aggrieved after being forced to play a man down and falling behind on a goal that shouldn't have stood. 

Controversy aside, the game was filled with end-to-end action. The Rapids finished the game with a staggering 23 shots, eight of them on target. Aside from the Rapids' early goal, there were few notable scoring chances for either side in the first half, save for a Pappa shot that was cleared off the line in the 35th minute, and a Sebastian Giovinco free kick for Toronto FC that just missed the top right corner in the last minute of first-half stoppage time. 

Sebastian Giovinco (in white and blue) taking a free kick against the Colorado Rapids. Photo credit: Doug Pensinger/Getty Images Sport
Sebastian Giovinco (in white and blue) taking a free kick against the Colorado Rapids. Photo credit: Doug Pensinger/Getty Images Sport

The second half was much livelier compared to the first. Toronto FC made two offensive substitutions, one of which brought on Jozy Altidore, and switched to a highly-unorthodox 3-3-3 formation in an attempt to find the equalizer. Giovinco thought he had tied the game with a curling free kick that looked destined for the top-left corner of the goal. But MacMath was up to the task as he brilliantly palmed the Italian international's free kick over the bar and out for a corner. The Rapids had two glorious opportunities to put the game to bed, but Dillon Power's header off the post in the 64th minute and substitute Conor Doyle's blocked shot in the 89th minute made for a nerve-wracking end to the game.

In the 92nd minute, the Canadian club had one last chance. Giovinco was fouled for what seemed like the millionth time about ten yards outside the Rapids' 18-yard-box, and he picked himself up to take the free kick. Instead of trying to curl the ball on frame or cross the ball into the box, Giovinco unleashed a "knuckleball" free kick. The ball knuckled and dipped in mid-air, and goalkeeper MacMath didn't even try to stop the free kick. Unfortunately for Giovinco and TFC, the ball didn't dip enough, and it whizzed narrowly over MacMath's crossbar. The final whistle sounded soon after, and TFC would leave the Mile High City empty-handed. 

Men of the Match

Colorado Rapids: Luis Solignac

With Rapids starting forward Kevin Doyle out three to five weeks with a shin injury, manager Mastroeni gave Solignac the opportunity to start up top as the team's lone striker. Solignac had come off the bench in the team's first three games, and when he was subbed on in those games, he was placed on either the left or right wing.

But after this game, it's clear that Solignac should be used as a center forward, and should start for the Rapids until Doyle is healthy again. The 25-year-old Argentine took his first goal in MLS very well. He controlled Pappa's measured pass before firing the ball past the TFC goalkeeper. He showed surprising speed for a man of his size, and tested Irwin again with a rasping strike late in the match which Irwin saved. Yet it was Solignac's ability to keep possession of the ball until his team could join in on the attack that should garner the most praise from Mastroeni. Solignac deserves to start up top next week after turning in such a well-rounded performance against an improved TFC defense. 

Toronto FC: Clint Irwin

It was a bittersweet return to Dick's Sporting Goods Park for goalkeeper Clint Irwin, who served as the Rapids starting 'keeper from 2013-2015 and made 92 appearances for the club. Although Irwin will be disappointed that he couldn't beat his former club, he did everything he could to keep TFC in the game after his team fell behind in the eighteenth minute.

He blocked two point-blank Axel Sjoberg shots in the 63rd minute, saved a well-struck Solignac shot in the 70th minute, and then saved a Marc Burch effort and a late Dillon Serna attempt in the 74th and 88th minute, respectively. Irwin can improve on his passing out of the back, but other than some wayward passes, it was a strong performance from the TFC netminder, and another reason why many TFC fans are calling him the best goalkeeper TFC has ever had. After a performance like this, it's hard to argue with that statement. 

What's Next for Both Teams

The Rapids travel to Salt Lake City, Utah to take on Real Salt Lake on Saturday, April 9, at 9:30 PM EST in the first game of the 2016 Rocky Mountain Cup. The Rocky Mountain Cup is a soccer trophy awarded to the fans of the winner of the season series between Real Salt Lake and the Rapids. The Rapids will look to win the first of three regular season meetings between the two clubs, as well as get their first road win of the season. 

Toronto FC look to break their two-game losing streak when they travel to Foxborough, Massachusetts to take on the New England Revolution on Saturday, April 9th, at 4:00 PM EST. The Revolution won their first game of the season after defeating the New York Red Bulls 1-0 this past Friday. It remains to be seen whether Jozy Altidore starts on the bench or up top with Giovinco, but TFC will have to provide more support for Giovinco in the attack if they hope to leave Massachusetts with a win. The "Reds" will also be hoping that a few of the referees' calls go their way in their next game as well.