Players from the Colorado Rush pose for a team photo before their 2020 US Open Cup qualifying match against Club El Azul. Photo: Colorado Rush
It took a spirited extra time effort from the Colorado Rush to defeat Club El Azul in the first qualifying round of the 2020 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup. The Rush edged Club El Azul 3-2 in a match that had to be ended early due to a flurry of red cards.
The Rush came to their home field at Addenbrooke Park with heavy hearts. Colin Clark, a local legend played eight seasons in Major League Soccer — five of them with the Colorado Rapids — and also played for the Rush in recent years. Clark passed away suddenly from a heart attack on Aug. 26. Clark had also spent a lot of time teaching the game to the next generation, including a stint as the director of coaching with the Rush. His memorial service was held earlier in the week.
“You are so emotionally drained” said Rush’s 43-year-old ‘utility player’ Adam Hudson. “But, you can either take that and totally fold up, or you can take it and turn it into a positive thing which is probably what anyone like Colin would want anyway.”
The Rush, who wore black arm bands in honor of their fallen teammate, would see the majority of the chances on goal in the first half. But in the opening 20 minutes, Club El Azul of the Colorado Premier League would take the lead against the run of play and force the Rush onto the back foot. The teams would see out the half with even possession.
In the second half, In the 65th minute, Rush winger Alex Olivera found a space at the top of the box and hit a dangerous ball with his left that looped over Azul’s keeper and into the back of the net. Only Alex knows if the ball was a shot or a cross.
“We needed some luck tonight,” said Hudson. “Alex is not a left-footed player. Colin was.”
Rush’s keeper Luke Heaton would make a spectacular top-corner save off of a blast from a Azul corner kick to keep his team in the game.
A rejuvenated Rush side would force the game to extra time.
In the 91st minute, Hudson entered the game wearing the No. 11 shirt formerly worn by his close friend Colin Clark. Shortly thereafter, luck would lend itself to the Rush again as an Azul player would receive a second yellow after he pushed a Rush player to the ground in frustration right in front of the fourth official.
Going into the second period of overtime, and with the man advantage, target forward Fabricio Barancoski would give the Rush the lead by redirecting a goal-bound header from Nick Hartman over the keeper and into the top of the net.
The Rush would double the lead after Barancoski would work a 2-on-1 break with Omar Sandoval who would take the end line and send the ball back across the goal for Barancoski to finish clinically.
Club El Azul fought back immediately with a laid off shot from the top of the box that would find its way under Heaton’s outstretched arm.
With about five minutes left, trailing by one, Azul would not prove strong enough to finish out the game after a second player was sent off for a bad tackle. This decision outraged Club El Azul so much so that three players were sent off, including their head coach. This left them with six players, one fewer than the minimum required, so the referee called for the game to come to an end with a few minutes left on the clock.
The Rush, who qualified for the US Open Cup for the first time in 2017, advance to Round 2 where they will take on FC Boulder Harpos on Oct. 20.
“Colin loved the Open Cup,” said coach Joe Rush after the game. “This run, this season, it is all dedicated to Colin.”
“When you play for a person that you loved and looked up to in the soccer sense, playing professionally the way he did … it kind of helps you,” said Hudson. “Some don’t know the impact he had on our lives and on the field.”