Dillon Powers and Gabriel Torres were on the warpath for the host Rapids, but Josh Saunders was an effing wall.
New York City's keeper leaped, stretched, and practically corkscrewed his way to a clean sheet and a hard-earned point for the visitors.
On the season, Saunders sports eleven saves against a single, solitary goal allowed; and remember, that goal came off a deflection in stoppage time down in Orlando. His save percentage against all shots on target is a magisterial 92%.
For NYC, the disconnect between the midfield and the front line was reminiscent of similar struggles back on March 8th in Orlando. Was it simply away-game jitters? Sure, nothing today could possibly compare to the 40,000-plus on hand at the positively rocking Yankee Stadium last Sunday against New England. But more was missing than a cheering section.
Andrew Jacobson and Ned Grabavoy had a hard time conducting the orchestra in the back of the midfield, and first-time starter Shay Facey, who started in place of Josh Williams at right back and flashed only glimpses of competence on and off the ball, proved how far he still has to go.
The hometown Rapids dictated the pace of the game from the start. Dillon Powers and Gabriel Torres sported heaps of savvy, getting on the end of leading passes and keeping the pressure on New York City's inconsistent back line.
Twelve minutes in, NYC had their first big chance to answer on the attack, but Adam Nemec couldn't control the ball after nearly breaking free from Colorado goalkeeper Clint Irwin one-on-one in the penalty area. For Nemec, the missed chances are mounting. Young strikers Khiry Shelton and Patrick Mullins are knocking on the door, drawing closer and closer to poaching the jockeyin' Slovakian's playing time.
That proved to be the best chance for the sky blues in the first half, as talisman David Villa and killer playmaker Mix Diskerud couldn't focus the energies of the visiting team with any particular efficiency.
At the half, without a goal on the board, New York's YES Network asked head coach Jason Kreis to evaluate his team's performance in the first forty-five minutes. His response?
"Poor. Really, really poor."
Was it the 5,200-foot altitude at Dick's Sporting Goods Park? Was it the cross-country travel, the likes of which the Bronx Blues had never before experienced? There were no excuses issued from the gaffer, but doubts lingered about the focus and preparedness of the team in their first-ever trip out west.
We took in this game at Blaise, a new bar/restaurant in Manhattan's Hell's Kitchen. Our hosts for the afternoon were the Hearts of Oak, a new supporters' group looking to curate a different flavor from New York City's massive, officially-recognized Third Rail Supporters' Club. Throughout the ranks, the consensus was that super-sub striker Khiry Shelton was the elixir that Jason Kreis's team desperately needed:
The team needed a shot in the arm. Right on schedule, the jaunty Shelton, who mere months ago was playing college ball for Oregon State University in Corvallis, made his way onto the pitch to replace the physical but inefficient Nemec in minute sixty-one. His energy was evident, but made scarcely a dent in the pace of the game.
Two minutes later, Gabriel Torres ripped a hole in the NYC defense and found himself one-on-one with Saunders, but the Universal Keeper cut it out once again. He was pumped up following yet another save, but, as he told Hudson River Blue at the team's Media Day, he only gets that pumped up following a defensive breakdown in front of him.
In the late going, the introduction of Javier Calle for Sebastian Velasquez did little to stem the tide. New York City could scarcely stand up to the demands of the thin Colorado air. The squad found itself bent over, hands on knees. This is not the recipe for a late match-winner.
Perhaps a product of nerves surrounding his first MLS start, Shay Facey was shown a second yellow card for a hard challenge in the eighty-second minute. This was a teachable moment for the young Manchester City loanee, but the result was a sending-off. New York City, down to ten men, had to resign themselves to salvaging a draw on the road.
Both teams would grind to a stand-still in the closing minutes. It appeared that Kreis and Colorado's Pablo Mastroeni were equally content to take the draw. At the death, the scoreline at Dick's Sporting Goods Park read 0-0.
This tilt leaves a sour taste on New York City's palate following the bombastic scenes last week at Yankee Stadium, but hope doth spring. Sporting Kansas City comes to the Bronx next Saturday for the first time, and the sky-blue faithful will be waiting for them in the bleachers with eyes raised and scarves hoisted.