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INVESCO FIELD at MILE HIGH
7 pm MT (FSN-W; TD: 11 pm ET)
It's the first of a pair of games in hand for the Colorado Rapids as they look to improve their position in the Western Conference for the upcoming MLS Cup Playoffs. Currently five points behind second-place Los Angeles Galaxy (and three behind third-place FC Dallas), the Rapids have played two fewer games than L.A., though of course their postseason future is set. For Chivas USA, it's the final road game of their inaugural season, coming after winning their first in club history at Columbus over the weekend.
REFEREE: Richard Heron. SAR (bench): Chris Strickland; JAR (opposite): Jose Corro; 4th: Scott McCaslin
MLS Career: 36 games; FC/gm: 34.1; Y/gm: 2.8; R: 9; pens: 10
Games involving Rapids: P10 W8 L2 T0; FC/gm: 36.0; Y/gm: 3.1; R: 3; pens: 6
Games involving Chivas USA: first game
INJURY REPORT: COLORADO RAPIDS - OUT: MF Matt Crawford (R hip strain); QUESTIONABLE: GK Joe Cannon (L abdominal strain) ... CHIVAS USA - OUT: FW Thiago Martins (R knee MCL sprain); MF Hector Castro (L knee ACL surgery); GK Brad Guzan (frontal sinus and nasal fracture); PROBABLE: MF Francisco Gomez (L quadriceps strain); DF Victor Arbelaez (L adductor strain)
WARNINGS: COL: Kyle Beckerman (19 CP), Mike Petke (9 CP in 2 gms) ... CHV: Hector Cuadros (19 CP); Antonio Martinez (17 CP); Francisco Palencia (19 CP); Ramon Ramirez (10 add'l CP)
INTERNATIONAL ABSENCES: COL: Pablo Mastroeni (USA; vs. Costa Rica, Oct. 8) ... CHV: Douglas Sequeira (Costa Rica; vs. USA, Oct. 8)
This is the fourth and final league meeting between the teams this season, the Rapids winning each of the first three encounters. It's the second match of the series in Denver this year, and the second in a 10-day span.
Coaches record: Fernando Clavijo v CHV: P3 W3 L0 T0 ... Hans Westerhof vs. COL: P2 W0 L2 T0
ALL-TIME (3 meetings): Rapids 3 wins, 8 goals ... Chivas USA 0 wins, 3 goals ... 0 draws
AT DENVER (1 meeting): Rapids 1 win, 2 goals ... Chivas USA 0 wins, 1 goal ... 0 draws
The Rapids have won the first three meetings between the clubs this season, the first two coming a bit more than a month apart, each team hosting one, then winning the second meeting in Carson just 10 days ago.
The Rapids hit for the winning goal after being put a man down in a 2-1 victory at home against Chivas USA on May 14.
Super-sub Jeff Cunningham again came to the rescue of the Rapids after the home side was reduced to 10 men. Chris Henderson gave the Rapids the lead in the 31st minute when he converted from the penalty spot after defender Alfonso Loera was adjudged to have handled the ball in the area.
But another Chivas center back, Ryan Suarez, pulled the expansion club level with a truly stunning strike, stepping forward to collect a square pass before hitting a swerving shot from all of 25 yards that sailed past Joe Cannon into the upper left-hand corner (66).
Rapids right back Hunter Freeman was sent off in the 73rd minute for a harsh tackle on Francisco Mendoza, but just five minutes later Cunningham hit for his fourth goal of the campaign - all after coming on as a sub - when he neatly finished off a Jean-Philippe Peguero that left him alone in the area.
Chivas then apparently equalized in the dying moments in a bizarre sequence. The Rapids had kicked the ball out to allow a Chivas injury to be attended to, and then after Chivas threw the ball back to Cannon, Chivas forward Isaac Romo slipped in to intercept and fired the ball into the empty net. But referee Ricardo Valenzuela disallowed the goal for ungentlemanly conduct.
On June 18, Jeff Cunningham hit for his first professional hat trick as the Rapids prised open the Chivas defense time and again on their way to a 3-1 victory at The Home Depot Center.
Cunningham opened his and the Rapids account on the half-hour, a quick turnover leading to a counter before he lashed home a drive from just outside the area. He then doubled the score just after the hour mark, Jean-Philippe Peguero dancing through on the right before finding Cunningham completely unmarked and he turned the ball home with a first-time shot that had a hint of offside.
Cunningham then missed a glorious chance to finish off his hat trick in the 66th minute when Brad Guzan saved his penalty kick, but he made no mistake 12 minutes later, racing onto a long throw-in to go in alone on the Chivas rookie 'keeper and neatly curl his shot inside the right-hand post.
Chivas USA pulled a goal back just before the end, Ricky Lewis adjudged to have handled the ball in the area and Thiago Martins converting from the penalty spot, sending Rapids 'keeper Joe Cannon the wrong way.
On Sept. 24, the Rapids clinched their place in the MLS Cup Playoffs and rounded out the field from the Western Conference, coming back to claim a 3-1 victory against Chivas USA at The Home Depot Center.
Once again, Chivas took the lead: Juan Francisco Palencia ran down the ball in the left corner and after escaping a defender floated in a cross to the back post where Arturo Torres was all alone to send a diving header home past Byron Foss (19).
But it took Colorado just six minutes to answer. Eric Denton burst through the Chivas backline and clipped a short cross toward Jean-Philippe Peguero, who won an air battle with Ezra Hendrickson then stabbed the ball home from the doorstep after it fell to his feet.
The match turned just after the break, when Hendrickson took down Jovan Kirovski inside the area and referee Marcel Yonan pointed to the spot. Despite bitter protests from the Chivas defenders, Kirovski stepped up to take up his own penalty and hammered it home (47).
The Rapids rounded out the scoreline three minutes into stoppage time, Dan Gargan getting down the right flank before sending in a low cross that Dedi Ben-Dayan turned home first-time for his second goal in as many matches.
Here's Clavijo's team (4-3-1-2): Byron Foss - Dan Gargan, Nat Borchers, Pablo Mastroeni, Ritchie Kotschau (Dedi Ben Dayan 60) - Terry Cooke (Hunter Freeman 87), Kyle Beckerman, Eric Denton - Alain Nkong - Jean-Philippe Peguero (Diego Serna 77), Jovan Kirovski
Here's Westerhof's team (3-3-1-3): Brad Guzan - Ezra Hendrickson, Douglas Sequeira, Orlando Perez - Jesus Ochoa, Ramon Ramirez (Isaac Romo 62), Esteban Arias - Juan Pablo Garcia - Arturo Torres (Matt Taylor 68), Juan Francisco Palencia, Antonio Martinez
The Rocky Mountain Cup was still on offer as the Rapids took the advantage with one more meeting remaining, in the final league contest of the season for both teams.
Clint Mathis gave Real Salt Lake a dream start in their bid for a first-ever road win. Robert Scarlett sent a high cross from the left touchline and Mathis hit a remarkable first-time full volley, looping the ball over Rapids 'keeper Byron Foss.
But Colorado pulled level in the 39th minute as Dedi Ben-Dayan scored his third goal in as many games. Jean-Philippe Peguero wriggled out of a tight spot in the corner and drove in a low cross that Ben-Dayan sidefooted home for the equalizer.
Then four minutes from the end, Jeff Cunningham provided the winner, thanks to a neat combination from the pair that connected for the Rapids' first. They played a nice one-two on the left side of the area, the Israeli international this time sending in a low cross and Cunningham sliding in ahead of an RSL defender to poke the ball home.
Rapids coach Fernando Clavijo made one change to the team that defeated Chivas USA 3-1 at The Home Depot Center the previous Saturday. Dedi Ben-Dayan was given the start on the left of midfield as Ritchie Kotschau returned to the substitutes' bench, Eric Denton moving back to a fullback role.
Here's Clavijo's team (4-3-1-2): Byron Foss - Dan Gargan (Hunter Freeman 89), Pablo Mastroeni, Nat Borchers, Eric Denton (Ritchie Kotschau 89) - Terry Cooke (Jeff Cunningham 64), Kyle Beckerman, Dedi Ben-Dayan - Alain Nkong - Jovan Kirovski, Jean-Philippe Peguero
"I think our confidence is good but we still have given up a early goal. We didn't mark tight enough but the team is showing a lot of (positive) attitude coming in and we turned around and scored and we created a lot of chances the second half. It was great momentum for us right now," Clavijo said.
The Colorado Rapids won for third game on the trot, coming from behind and getting a late goal in a 2-1 victory against Real Salt Lake on Saturday night in Denver. The Rapids now have 40 points from 29 matches and are still in fourth place in the Western Conference, but now just three points adrift of third-place FC Dallas and just five behind second-place Los Angeles Galaxy (with two games in hand on the Galaxy).
Over the past three games, Ben-Dayan has scored a goal in each game and added one assist, and Jovan Kirovski has a goal and an assist. In addition, Kirovski's strike partner Jean-Philippe Peguero has two goals and two assists.
"It's the right time for them (Jovan Kirovski and Dedi Ben-Dayan), it's the right time for the team to be connecting a little bit better. We have three more games to go and I expect them to get even more used to playing with each other. So it is great timing for us going into the playoffs."
Said Kirovski: "When you first come in, just thrown into it, it's a little bit tougher. You have to get used to how people play and how certain players play with you and every game has gotten better and we are winning. That is the most important thing,"
Ben-Dayan wasn't known as a goalscorer before his acquisition by the Rapids, yet he's popped up to grab some key goals down the stretch.
"(Jean-Philippe) Peguero was on the right side and I left my side to go to the right side. I got the ball from Peguero and I finished with my right leg. It's my second goal with the right leg (this season), which surprises me because my right foot is not my best," he said. "But I am still very happy for my team, for me and I hope to continue with this winning spirit for the Colorado Rapids. I want us to continue it for the playoffs and go in strong."
Jeff Cunningham came off the bench in the 64th minute and scored his team-leading 12th goal in the 86th minute to break the tie. Cunningham has not started the past two games, both Colorado wins.
"We're better with Jeff on the field, but at the same time we need to understand that we have 28 players on our roster and everybody needs to step in and do the job," Clavijo said to The Denver Post.
With the win, the Rapids took a 2-1 lead in the series for the Rocky Mountain Cup, the trophy commissioned by the Rapids and Real Salt Lake supporters groups to be awarded to the winner of the season series between the teams. The final meeting comes in Salt Lake City on Wed., Oct. 12, and Clavijo maintained that the cup is not just being taken seriously by the fans.
"The team is absolutely placing importance in the cup," said Clavijo. "The only things that Salt Lake are playing for now are the Rocky Mountain Cup and their jobs. They are going to be very dangerous, and we cannot take them for granted. They always come and play hard, and I don't expect anything different when we go back there."
Chivas USA won on the road for the first time ever, in their 15th away match of the campaign, and ensured the Crew will not have a winning record at home on the season for the first time in club history.
The lone goal came in the 59th minute: Francisco Mendoza intercepted a pass and sent a square ball to Francisco Palencia, who sent a low drive screaming inside Jonny Walker's right-hand post from the edge of the area.
While the loss did not completely eliminate the Crew from the postseason, they need to win each of their final three games remaining while requiring the Wizards and MetroStars to lose each of theirs.
Chivas head coach Hans Westerhof made three changes to the team that lost 3-1 to the Colorado Rapids the weekend before at home. With Douglas Sequeira suspended, Francisco Mendoza came back into the team as Ezra Hendrickson moved into his central defense position. Matt Taylor also returned to the lineup, coming in for Antonio Martinez, and Sergio Garcia returned between the posts, coming in for the injured Brad Guzan.
Here's Westerhof's team (3-3-1-3): Sergio Garcia - Esteban Arias, Ezra Hendrickson, Orlando Perez - Jesus Ochoa, Ramon Ramirez, Francisco Mendoza - Juan Pablo Garcia (Isaac Romo 89) - Arturo Torres, Juan Francisco Palencia, Matt Taylor (Hector Cuadros 82).
We are very satisfied. It's important for us to win the last three games. We showed that we can be a good team in MLS," Westerhof said. " ... One of the things you need in the game is good organization and defense. It's not too easy to change it every time. We have many offensive players, and today maybe we had even less than before. You have to recharge your batteries every game, and we did that. This helps of course; we do not want to appear as the worst team in MLS. It was our first away win, and that helps to give us some confidence.
Chivas USA ended their winless streak at nine games and won for the first time in club history on their travels, making a lone goal stand up for a 1-0 victory against the Columbus Crew on Saturday night. Chivas USA are still in last place in the Western Conference with 17 points from 30 matches, but now trail fifth-place Real Salt Lake by just two points.
Of the 62 goals Chivas has allowed on the season, 32 have come after the 60th minute. Many of those goals have permitted opponents to steal points at the end of a match. Westerhof thinks that luck has finally swung in his favor after long season.
"We did not play so well in this game. I think it was also the first time when we were lucky most of the time," said Westerhof. "The luckiest one was always the opponent up to this point in the season."
Even without suspended center back Douglas Sequeira, the Chivas defense always did enough to keep the home side of the scoresheet. It was the third shutout of the season for Chivas, the first since July 22 (a 10-game span).
"One of the things you need in a game is good organization and defense," said Westerhof "It is not so easy when you have to change every time."
Ezra Hendrickson, one of the few MLS defenders known more for his offensive prowess, more than adequately filled in for Sequeira. "It was basically my job to organize the defense, and to play well defensively when I got called on. There were times when I had to step up and make a play. I am one of the leaders on this team, and that is what is going to happen, game-in and game-out. I am going to have to step and do my thing, teach the younger guys," Hendrickson said.
"I had experienced guys in front of me (Orlando Perez and Esteban Arias). We were together in the back, and we were not able to do that much all year," he said. "... It was a game where we were hurting from injuries, and we were called upon to improvise. If that's what we have to do to win, that's what we are going to do. And we were lucky enough to get the result today."
For Palencia, it was his third goal in seven games since joining Chivas USA - but his first since hitting for two in his MLS debut, a 3-3 draw with the MetroStars on Aug. 21.
"It was a very hard game. We did not play spectacular. We wanted to be a very quiet team. We want to strike from the back to the forwards," Palencia said. "We had a game with a lot of passing, and we are not a team that passes easy. That's why we played intelligently. I am very happy with the final score."
Chivas are still on track for some dubious records. They have allowed 64 goals. The single-season record for most goals allowed is 69 by Colorado in 1998. With four wins and five draws, Chivas now has 17 points, besting the league record-low number scored by now-defunct Tampa Bay in 2001. Also, Chivas has a goal-differential of minus-35; Tampa Bay's was a record minus-36.