INVESCO FIELD at MILE HIGH
SAN JOSE, Calif.
7 pm MT (Altitude; UPN-Ohio)
The Colorado Rapids headed into their two-week break with the weight of wondering about playoff qualification off their shoulders. Now they'll wait to see who they play - though they know regardless their first-round first leg will be at home, as they cannot finish higher than third place, and could face either of the two teams ahead of them. The Columbus Crew have two milestones ahead of them heading into the MLS Cup Playoffs with the No. 1 seed in the East - extending their MLS-record 17-game unbeaten streak, and completing their run to a first-ever Supporters' Shield.
REFEREE: Michael Kennedy. SAR (bench): Chris Strickland; JAR (opposite): Emiliano Monje; 4th: Hilario Grajeda
MLS Career: 58 games; FC/gm: 33.2; Y/gm: 4.1; R: 9; pens: 26
Games involving Rapids: P10 W3 L4 T3; FC/gm: 30.7; Y/gm: 4.9; R: 2; pens: 5
Games involving Crew: P11 W5 L2 T4; FC/gm: 32.3; Y/gm: 3.5; R: 2; pens: 0
INJURY REPORT: COLORADO RAPIDS - OUT: DF Joey DiGiamarino (concussion); DF Jeff Stewart (R knee); FW Zizi Roberts (R knee swelling); DOUBTFUL: FW John Spencer (R groin strain); MD Darryl Powell (R knee sprain); DF Gary Sullivan (L lower leg); QUESTIONABLE: FW Jean-Philippe Peguero (abdominal strain); PROBABLE: MD Seth Trembly (R ankle sprain). ... COLUMBUS CREW - OUT: MD Ross Paule (post concussion symptoms); DF Stephen Herdsman (L groin strain)
INTERNATIONAL ABSENCES: none
SUSPENDED: COL: Pablo Mastroeni (through Oct. 16)
This is the third and final meeting between the two clubs this season. The Rapids won 2-1 in the only Columbus meetings of the season, before the teams played to a scoreless draw in Denver on July 24.
An injury-hit Rapids backline still held firm in earning the scoreless draw. Neither 'keeper was terribly tested over the 90 minutes, but Rapids 'keeper Joe Cannon was forced into a quality save when Crew striker Jeff Cunningham rounded a defender for a close-range shot in the first half.
Rapids striker Jean-Philippe Peguero slashed in for a powerful diving header in the second half, but in a real example of the entire day, it went right at Crew 'keeper Jon Busch.
Here's Tim Hankinson's team (3-4-3): Joe Cannon - Matt Crawford, Nat Borchers, Joey DiGiamarino (Ritchie Kotschau 62) - Antonio de la Torre, Kyle Beckerman, Mark Chung, Chris Henderson - Rey Angel Martinez (Jordan Cila 46), John Spencer, Alberto Delgado (Jean Philippe Peguero 46).
Here's Greg Andrulis's team (4-3-1-2): Jon Busch - Duncan Oughton, Robin Fraser, Chad Marshall, Frankie Hejduk - Ross Paule, Simon Elliott, Manny Lagos (Chris Wingert 74) - Kyle Martino (Brian Maisonneuve 83) - Edson Buddle (David Testo 60), Jeff Cunningham
In the only Crew Stadium meeting this year on June 26, the Rapids claimed a 2-1 win behind two first-half goals. Jean-Philippe Peguero tapped home a cross in the heart of the box to put the Rapids ahead on 37 minutes, then just before halftime, Eric Denton turned a low centering pass into his own goal to double the Colorado advantage.
Edson Buddle drove home a shot from the heart of the area to pull a goal back for the Crew in the 89th minute, then the visitors escaped with the full three points when Chris Henderson cleared a header off the line in the dying moments of the match.
A year ago, each team won once on home ground. The Crew recorded a 2-0 victory on May 10 in Columbus (Cunningham 25 pen, McBride 43), while the Rapids claimed a 2-1 golden goal triumph at Invesco Field on Aug. 16 (Spencer 57, Chung 91 - Buddle 72).
The Rapids win in the first meeting this season was the first by a road team since July 4, 1999, ending a run of seven matches. That was also the only Crew victory in series history in Colorado, the Rapids having won the last three at home.
The Rapids won eight of the first nine meetings between the two teams - with the only Crew victory in that time coming by shootout after a regulation draw. Since, the Rapids have won four times, the Crew three and four matches have ended drawn.
Edson Buddle has 3 goals to lead current Crew players. Manny Lagos has 2 goals, 5 assists, but none of his points have come while with Columbus; Buddle has 1 assist. Just three other current Crew players have points against the Rapids - Jeff Cunningham (1 goal, 2 assists), Simon Elliott and Brian Maisonneuve (each 1 goal, 1 assist).
Chris Henderson and Mark Chung lead current Rapids players with 3 goals each against Columbus. Henderson also has 8 assists, but just 1 goal, 7 assists have come while with Colorado. Chung also has 3 assists; just 1 goal has come with the Rapids. Just four other current Rapids - Ritchie Kotschau, Joey DiGiamarino and John Spencer all have 2 goals v the Crew, while Peguero has 1.
Coaches record: Greg Andrulis v COL: P7 W1 L3 T3 ... Tim Hankinson vs. CLB: P19 W11 L5 T3
ALL-TIME (20 meetings): Rapids 12 wins (2 shootout), 34 goals ... Crew 4 wins (1 shootout), 26 goals ... 4 draws
AT DENVER: (9 meetings): Rapids 6 wins (1 shootout), 11 goals ... Crew 1 win (0 shootout), 8 goals ... 2 draws
Jean-Philippe Peguero gave the Rapids the lead on 14 minutes when he rifled home a Matt Crawford cross from the right corner, then Colorado 'keeper Joe Cannon maintained the advantage just before the halftime break when he parried a Landon Donovan penalty after two became tangled in the area.
But the Earthquakes claimed sole possession of fourth place in the West with a leveler eight minutes from time, taking advantage of a quick restart following a substitution for Dwayne De Rosario to get free behind the Rapids rearguard and poke home a long ball from Ryan Cochrane.
Still, even with the result, the Rapids guaranteed a place in the MLS Cup Playoffs with the point. "It's part of a mission accomplished. This is a big step after what we've been through this year," Rapids coach Tim Hankinson said. "Obviously, the frustration that the coaches and players feel is that we let points slip away. We didn't keep possession like we should, and we went to sleep."
Hankinson made one change to the team that lost 1-0 to the Kansas City Wizards in their previous match, forced when Antonio de la Torre was suspended for caution point accumulation. Jean-Phillipe Peguero returned to the team, coming in to partner John Spencer in attack as Hankinson reconfigured his team, Matt Crawford moving to right back as he went to a two-striker scheme.
Here's Hankinson's team (4-1-3-2): Joe Cannon - Matt Crawford, Nat Borchers, Ritchie Kotschau, Ricky Lewis - Pablo Mastroeni - Chris Henderson, Jordan Cila (Seth Trembly 82 / Alberto Delgado 89), Mark Chung - Jean-Philippe Peguero, John Spencer (Kyle Beckerman 58)
After the results of the last week, the Rapids head into the season finale knowing they could finish either third or fourth in the Western Conference. While not looking ahead of Columbus, that has also meant inability to prepare for the first round of the MLS Cup Playoffs.
"From my standpoint, if you can't win the conference, the important thing is to be able to play for the Cup," Hankinson said. "Quite honestly, it doesn't really matter to me who we play. I don't think we're worried about where we land at the end of the day. We're just trying to prepare for whoever we play."
The Colorado Rapids return to action after a two-week layoff, their last match a 1-1 draw in Denver against the San Jose Earthquakes on Oct. 2 when the visitors grabbed a late equalizer. The Rapids haven't won in three games, now in third place in the Western Conference with 40 points from 29 matches, three behind the Los Angeles Galaxy and three ahead of the Earthquakes - with either a third- to fourth-place finish available to them.
Jeff Cunningham gave the visitors a first-half lead when he was quickest to the rebound of a shot that sailed into the area, poking it over the onrushing Jonny Walker (26).
But the MetroStars pulled level after the break (71), Sergio Galvan Rey converting from the penalty spot after Eddie Gaven was tripped up by Duncan Oughton to keep the Metros ahead of United for the time being. The two will face each other in the first round of the MLS Cup Playoffs.
Columbus Crew coach Greg Andrulis ran out a side filled with reserves against the MetroStars. He kept just three starters from the team that claimed a 1-0 victory away to the Chicago Fire at midweek - Nelson Akwari staying in the back three and Danny Szetela in midfield as Frankie Hejduk and Tony Sanneh were still on international duty, while Jeff Cunningham remained a starter in attack.
Here's Andrulis's side (3-5-2): Matt Jordan - Nelson Akwari, Chris Wingert, Eric Denton - David Testo (Chad Marshall 74), Manny Lagos, Brian Maisonneuve, Danny Szetela, Devin Barclay (Duncan Oughton 70) - Jeff Cunningham, Michael Ritch (Edson Buddle 60).
"We knew we could get a result," said Barclay. "With the group we had out there, we can compete against any team. From the goalkeeper to the 11 th guy, it was a battle."
The lack of recent playing time for the reserves was staggering. Eric Denton made his first appearance and start since Aug. 18. Manny Lagos last started Aug. 7, while Brian Maisonneuve's last start came May 29. David Testo made his first MLS start, while Barclay made his first start with the Crew. Michael Ritch made his first start in four months.
Cunningham's goal put him in a tie for the Crew club career record with 62, tying him atop the charts with Brian McBride. "It's a great honor for me," Cunningham said. "Brian is a great player. To be tied with him is an unbelievable feeling. Seven years ago, I never thought I would be in this position. It's probably the best thing that's happened in my career so far."
Dante Washington will wear No. 99. Washington had worn No. 9 throughout his MLS career, but that number is taken by rookie striker Erick Scott. Washington was signed in the days leading to the MetroStars match after leading the A-League in scoring this season (17 goals, six assists) with the Virginia Beach Mariners. Washington has 52 goals and 29 assists in his MLS career with Dallas and Columbus (1996, 2000-02).
Washington had been training with D.C. United, but when he was re-signed by the league, his rights were still held by Columbus and the Crew did not wish to allow him to go to a conference rival. To create room on the roster, defender Stephen Herdsman was placed on the season-ending injury list.
"I'm coming in to make a difference, change their winning ways," Washington said jokingly. "It's a new situation for me. I've never been on a team so successful. I'll help where I can. Usually when you come to a team at the end of the season, it's to help the team stay afloat or make a push."
The Columbus Crew extended their MLS-record unbeaten streak to 17 games, sending out a largely reserve side in settling for a 1-1 draw with the MetroStars at Giants Stadium last Saturday night. The Crew are now on 48 points from 29 matches, having already clinched the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference and now two points ahead in the race for the Supporters Shield heading into the season's last weekend, ahead of the Western Conference-leading Kansas City Wizards.
The teams are guaranteed of finishing second and third and meeting in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs - but the question is: In what order? A United victory will move them ahead of the MetroStars into second place in the East, meaning the return game will be played at RFK Stadium; a MetroStars victory or a draw, and they stay second, giving them home-field advantage for the second leg.
Following are the tiebreaking procedures if teams are level in the standings:
a. Head-to-head competition against all other teams equal in points, based on highest points-per-game average.
b. Overall team goal differential.
c. Total goals scored.
d-f. Tiebreakers a-c are applied to each team's regular-season road games only.
g-i. Tiebreakers a-c are applied to each team's regular-season home games only.
j. Fewest disciplinary points
k. Coin flip.
As of Oct. 9, here is how the MLS Cup playoffs would have looked:
SERIES A: (E1) Columbus vs. (E4) Chicago
SERIES B: (E2) MetroStars vs. (E3) D.C. United
SERIES C: (W1) Kansas City vs. (W4) San Jose
SERIES D: (W2) Los Angeles vs. (W3) Colorado
EASTERN CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP: Winner of CLB/CHI vs. Winner of MET/DC
WESTERN CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP: Winner of KC/SJ vs. Winner of COL/LA
MLS CUP 2004: Winners of Conference Championship Games
Series A - D played under home-and-home, total goals format ... If teams tied on aggregate, 30-minute, golden-goal overtime period follows, then followed by penalty kicks (if necessary) to determine Series winner ... Higher seed holds home-field advantage for Game 2 of Series ... Conference Championship Games and MLS Cup, if tied after 90 minutes, determined by 30-minute, golden-goal overtime ... If neither team scores during that time, the series will be decided via penalty kick shootout held according to FIFA regulations
Series A-D - Game One
Weekend of Friday, October 22 - Sunday, October 24 @ LOWER-SEED home site
Series A-D - Game Two (+ 30-minute golden-goal period, if tied on aggregate goals)
Weekend of Friday, October 29 - Friday, October 31 @ HIGHER-SEED home site
Eastern Conference Championship / Nov. 5 / 6 / 7
Western Conference Championship / Nov. 5 / 6 / 7
MLS Cup 2004 / Sun., Nov. 14 - ABC / 3:30 PM ET - The Home Depot Center, Carson, Calif.