His bright yellow shoes flashing like flares against the green grass, Ryan Smith burned his way through Colorado’s defense.
Even when the field tilted his direction, and the defense started taking shots at him, Smith found a way to break through.
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Dancing his way through Colorado’s defense all night, Smith set up Kei Kamara’s goal in the 48th minute to lift the Kansas City Wizards to a 1-0 win over the Rapids on Saturday.
A former English League Championship player, Smith found plenty of room to operate in Kansas City’s claustrophobically small home field, CommunityAmerica Ballpark, creating plenty of scoring chances early. The Rapids started paying more attention to Smith, yet he still found a way to get the assist on the game’s only goal, curling a free kick to Kamara, who outleaped two defenders in the box and headed it in just under the crossbar.
“Obviously, he’s extremely fast and quick, he’s very good on the ball, he sees the game well and he’s a great crosser and passer of the ball, so when that comes at you it’s hard to deal with,” Wizards coach Peter Vermes said.
Colorado (1-1-1) generated only a handful of good scoring opportunities and lost a goal by Conor Casey in the 69th minute on an offsides call. The Rapids managed just five shots – three on goal – and were hit with two yellow cards and a red in dropping to 0-7-3 in Kansas City since 2002.
“We never really got in the flow of the game,” Colorado defender Julien Baudet said.
Second-worst in MLS last season with 33 goals, Kansas City (2-0-0) started the season off with a 4-0 win over D.C. United and kept up the pressure early against Colorado.
Well, Smith did.
The British midfielder with the banana-yellow cleats and break dancer’s feet nearly sneaked a corner kick into the far upper corner 2 1/2 minutes in, then forced Rapids keeper Matt Pickens to making a leaping save with a left-footed curler from 10 yards past the corner of the box.
After that, not so exciting.
The highlight the rest of the first half, if you want to call it that, came in the 24th minute when Kansas City goalie Jimmy Nielsen took a close-range shot from Omar Cummings to the face. Cummings was so close Nielsen didn’t have time to get his hands up, and the keeper lay face down for several minutes before rising with a bright red nose and forehead.
Nielsen remained in the game and made three saves.
The final few minutes of the first half were bathed in yellow (cards). Baudet and teammate Pablo Mastroeni each received one about 90 seconds apart and Smith got one for Kansas City for winging the ball toward referee Landis Wiley after being called for a foul on a collision in Colorado’s end.
Baudet also was given a red card in the 72nd minute for a high kick on Kamara, who stayed down for several minutes but remained in the game.
“It changed the course of events,” Colorado coach Gary Smith said of Baudet’s ejection. “We’re one man down and in a very difficult spot.”
Kansas City then got the early goal in the second half, survived Casey’s potential equalizer and packed in defensively when Colorado went a man down to improve to 16-3-4 all-time at home against the Rapids.
The Wizards did it with one high-profile player still on their bench.
Kansas City agreed to terms with Sunil Chhetri on March 25 and the speedy Indian forward is expected to be cleared to play when these teams play a rematch on Tuesday.
His signing has been huge news overseas, enough that the Wizards held his introductory news conference at 9:30 local time so it could be broadcast back in India. The team has seen an increase of 5,000 Facebook fans since his signing and a recent goal in training became front-page news back home.
“We expected there to be some publicity around it, but didn’t expect this much,” said Greg Cotton, chief operating officer of the Wizards’ parent company. “It’s really blown us away, not only the amount of the interest, but the depth of the interest, sort of all things Sunil.”
And that’s before he has even played a game. Wait until he scores a goal or two.