The Colorado Rapids looked like a team raising the white flag and giving up on the CONCACAF Champions League when they fielded a reserve team in a must-win game against Salvadoran side Isidro Metapan.
At least that was the initial impression. The Rapids reserves had other plans.
Riding goals from back-up striker Quincy Amarikwa and rookie defender Eddie Ababio, who was making his professional debut, the Rapids delivered a 3-1 victory on Wednesday night that catapulted the defending MLS Cup champions into second place in Group B after starting the night in last place.
A first-round pick in the 2011 MLS Draft, Ababio marked his Rapids debut with a quality run and finish in the 31st minute to stun the home side, but Metapan eventually recovered when former New York Red Bulls defender Alfredo Pacheco equalized in the 36th minute.
Rather than fold, the Rapids rallied, and took the lead for good when Amarikwa converted a volley from 18 yards out in the 49th minute.
Metapan dominated possession for much of the night, and out-shot the Rapids 35-12 on the night, but never did find a way past Steward Ceus for an equalizer, and when Omar Cummings came off the bench to provide an insurance goal in the 77th minute, the final outcome was settled and the Rapids had new life in their push for a quarterfinal berth.
The victory was made even more impressive by the fact Colorado left home key starters Jeff Larentowicz, Pablo Mastroeni, Drew Moor, Marvell Wynne, Sanna Nyassi, Kosuke Kimura and Matt Pickens, along with head coach Gary Smith, who also didn't make the trip to El Salvador. Assistant coach Steve Guppy was in charge on Wednesday night as the Rapids looked to rest the nucleus of their team in an attempt to halt a troubling slide in MLS play that has seen Colorado go winless in five league matches.
Now Colorado controls its own fate in the Champions League, with a win in the group stage finale against Santos Laguna in Mexico on Oct. 19 enough to secure a second round place. Santos Laguna destroyed the Rapids, 4-1, earlier this month, but the Mexican side is expected to field reserves for the finale after having already clinched a place in the Champions League quarterfinals. The Rapids could also advance if Isidro Metapan and Real Espana draw in their group stage finale.