Rapids, Thunder tangle in Minnesota

MINNESOTA THUNDER (USL1) v COLORADO RAPIDS (MLS)

James E. Griffin Stadium, St. Paul, Minn.; 7 p.m. CT

The Minnesota Thunder are starting to make a habit of upsetting MLS clubs, and could make life difficult for the Colorado Rapids on Wednesday. A year ago, the Thunder knocked off the Los Angeles Galaxy in the fourth round before losing to the San Jose Earthquakes on penalty kicks in the quarterfinals. This year, the Thunder hit for six goals in sending Real Salt Lake packing in their first-ever U.S. Open Cup match - and now take a Rapids team that has lost at the first hurdle in three of the last five years.

MINNESOTA THUNDER
IN THE U.S. OPEN CUP: This is the sixth time in Thunder club history - and fourth year running - they've reached the competition proper in the Open Cup. Last year was by far their best performance, knocking off the Los Angeles Galaxy 1-0 in the fourth round before losing on penalty kicks to the San Jose Earthquakes after a 2-2 draw in the quarterfinals. They've played MLS teams five times in Open Cup competition, winning two, first losing to the Dallas Burn in 2000 in the third round, and also losing to the Galaxy in 2002 in the fourth round.

THIS YEAR: The Thunder played the giant-killing role for the second year running, knocking off Real Salt Lake of MLS 6-4 in extra time in a wild third-round match on July 12. Real took a 3-2 lead early in the second half and led 4-3 with 20 minutes left, but Aaron Paye hit for the equalizer two minutes from full time, then Matt Schmidt and Paye scored in extra time (Tarley 15, 66; Menyongar 17, Paye 88, 108; Schmidt 98 - Kreis 9 pen, 50, 70; Watson 38). ... The Thunder entered the competition in the second round, and defeated the PDL Chicago Fire Premier 2-1 on June 29 in St. Paul, an own goal in the 89th minute sealing the victory (Johnny Menyongar 62; own goal 89 - Brandon Moss 90). ... By virtue of their 2004 record, the Thunder entered the competition at the second round along with three other teams; the other four eligible USL First Division sides enter the Open Cup at the third round.

FORM GUIDE: The Thunder are in ninth place in the 12-team USL First Division with 21 points from 19 matches, trailing the first-place Montréal Impact by 19 points. They come into the Open Cup match off a 3-1 victory against the Virginia Beach Mariners last Thursday which snapped a three-game league losing streak and an eight-game winless run. Johnny Menyongar leads the Thunder with eight goals in 18 games, while Melvin Tarley is second on the club with six. Earlier this week, long-time coach Buzz Lagos announced his retirement after the completion of the season.

COLORADO RAPIDS
IN THE OPEN CUP: The 1999 U.S. Open Cup Finalists have not had much success over the recent past, losing their first match in the competition in three of the last five years. In 2000 and 2001 those losses came to A-League competition, falling in 2000 to the Richmond Kickers 3-0 and in 2001 to the Pittsburgh Riverhounds 2-0. Then a year ago, they were thrashed 3-0 by the Dallas Burn in the fourth round. ... In 1999, the Rapids faced A-League competition in three of their four ties, but fell in the final 2-0 to the Rochester Raging Rhinos. They knocked off the Seattle Sounders in the third round and the Charleston Battery in the semifinals, defeating the Tampa Bay Mutiny in between. ... Each of the first five years the Rapids were in the competition they were defeated by lower-division competition, losing twice to Rochester (1996 semifinal, 1999 final), to Richmond and Pittsburgh, and in 1997, to the D3 Pro League Chicago Stingers in the third round.

LAST YEAR: The Rapids were knocked out by the Dallas Burn for the second time in three seasons, a 3-0 loss at the Cotton Bowl. The Burn scored all three goals in a 15-minute blitz after the hour mark. Ronnie O'Brien gave the Burn a 60th-minute lead with a clinical finish from the heart of the penalty area, then Eddie Johnson grabbed the first of his two goals when he hammered home the rebound of an O'Brien shot that came back off the post (67). Johnson capped off the scoring when he finished off a breakaway after he was sent in alone by Ramon Nuñez in the 75th minute. The Rapids finished the game with 10 men when Nat Borchers was sent off.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.


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