COMMERCE CITY, Colo. (AP) — James Olayinka had a goal and an assist to lead Arsenal past the Major League Soccer’s Colorado Rapids 3-0 in a friendly on Monday night.
Olayinka’s sizzling right-footed strike in the 29th minute came from just outside the box as he scored into the upper-right corner of the net to give the English Premier League team a 2-0 lead.
Olayinka assisted on Arsenal’s opening score. He pushed the ball into the box where Bukayo Saka found it and lifted it into the net in the 13th minute. The third score came just after halftime from Gabriel Martinelli in the 61st minute. It was Martinelli’s debut after joining Arsenal from Ituano earlier in the month.
“I’m really pleased with our effort,” Colorado Rapids interim coach Conor Casey said. “We had chances but they’re a great team at the end of the day it was just about the atmosphere.”
In front of a near sellout — many of them cheering the visitors — Arsenal controlled the match.
“The first match was good to use different young players,” Arsenal manager Unai Emery said. “To give them chances to show their quality, commitment and the idea to help the team. The atmosphere here was perfect, a lot of Arsenal supporters and we had a good day here.”
This was the first preseason match for Arsenal ahead of the 2019-20 season as they embark on a three-game exhibition tour. Monday’s match was the only one against an MLS club.
Olayinka’s score was huge sign for the club. The 18-year-old developed through Arsenal’s academy and signed with the first team in January. He has yet to play in the Premier League. He represents a big hope as Arsenal finished fifth in the EPL last season.
Rapids goalkeeper Tim Howard was kept out of the game as the club limits his minutes in his final season. Howard spent the second half doing color commentary on local radio. Recently, Howard has done commentary for TNT during its Champions League coverage.
“It’s important, this relationship is massive for our club and fan base,” Howard said on the broadcast about the game. “The fact that we can attract this is massive.”
While the third-year Rapids goalie is new to broadcasting, he said of his younger teammates playing, “The experience of playing against such a talented side is eye opening.”
Arsenal stars Alexandre Lacazette, Mesut Özil and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang entered the game in the 78th minute. Each got rousing ovations and drew reactions from the crowd in the final 10 minutes when generating opportunities.
The Rapids only played six regulars the entire 90 minutes as they played an MLS match on Saturday.
Rapids’ 17-year-old midfielder Cole Bassett grew up an Arsenal fan. The Littleton native played the first 45 minutes and had one scoring chance. His time was limited because of how much recent time he has had in league play.
“It was a nice experience,” he said. “I just tried to show my stuff and maybe one day I’ll get to that level.”
United States Women’s National Team players Lindsey Horan and Mallory Pugh were in attendance. The two soccer stars and world champions are Colorado natives. They were honored at halftime in front of the crowd as Colorado’s governor Jared Polis declared July 15th U.S. Women’s National Team Day in the state.
“You could feel it in the air walking in,” Casey said. “The energy of a full house. So many important people who are a part of pushing this sport and this club forward. Just a great night to take part of this and come together as a group.”
Arsenal heads to Los Angeles to face Bayern Munich on Wednesday in an International Champions Cup match.
“The idea was to play with youngsters today. Wednesday we’ll use some different players,” Emery said. “Our preparation here is very important. The club is working very well, our idea is to continue creating.”
The Rapids continue MLS play on Saturday at home against NYCFC.