What a difference a week makes. Last week's Colorado Rapids' locker room in Chicago was not a great place to be in as an outsider. This week, it was the Houston players slumped in their seats in frustration as the Rapids celebated a morale-boosting victory over the league leaders.
Yesterday's game, not exactly chock full of action and highlights, will be remembered for one thing and that will be Julien Baudet and a triumphant return to the team after a miserable start to his Rapids' career. Signed at the end of June, Baudet managed only a disappointing performance against DC United and a broken arm against New York before yesterday. Brought in as an early sub for an injured Cory Gibbs, the Frenchman immediately ran the back line as if it was his to run. He was much more vocal than anybody else in that back line and was a force of nature throughout the rest of the game, culminating in a strong header from a Mehdi Ballouchy corner that sealed the win for the recovering Rapids.
"It's wonderful for Julien," said head coach Gary Smith afterwards. "The fellow's shown enormous character."
This is the Baudet that Smith wanted to see and the coach will today be feeling a lot better about the signing. There is no doubt that Smith wants Baudet to be the leader in that back four and a first choice in the line-up. Maybe that raises questions about who his ideal partner would be (Ihemelu? Gibbs? Palguta?). If Kosuke Kimura and Jordan Harvey (both good games yesterday) should be shoe-ins at fullback, it is leaving the remaining defensive space a little tight if Baudet can remain fit and in form. Not to mention Ty Harden, Mike Holody and Rob Valentino.
This was such an important win for the Rapids as they approach the run-in to the postseason. The players and Smith were still talking yesterday about the defeat in Chicago and this result will have done so much to consign that skeleton to the closet.
"We were all so despondent last week and to come in here this week and for the players to respond the way they have against a team that not only knows how to get results but are winners, well hopefully today we have made a little bit of a statement," said Smith. Pablo Mastroeni said it was a testament to the defensive toughness of the team that such influential Houston players as Holden and Clark could not do the things they wanted to.
A tremendously important result after the bitterness of Chicago. The playoffs, a distant prospect in Illinois, now seem that much closer.