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INVESCO FIELD at MILE HIGH
7 pm MT (no TV)
The Colorado Rapids have pulled back into the playoff-paying places, winners of two in a row after a five-game winless run. Jeff Cunningham has scored four goals in those two games to jump to the lead in the MLS Golden Boot, while the Rapids defense has also started to show its form of a year ago, with three goals allowed in their last five games. They play host to an FC Dallas team that owns the league's best record and comes off a two-game winning streak of their own - in a mini-homestand at the Cotton Bowl - while having now won six of their last seven games.
REFEREE: Kevin Stott. SAR (bench): Tom Supple; JAR (opposite): Jose Corro; 4th: Scott McCaslin
MLS Career: 114 games; FC/gm: 26.8; Y/gm: 3.4; R: 30; pens: 19
Games involving Rapids: P18 W5 L10 T3; FC/gm: 27.4; Y/gm: 4.0; R: 5; pens: 2
Games involving FC Dallas: P19 W8 L10 T1; FC/gm: 25.6; Y/gm: 3.4; R: 6; pens: 1
INJURY REPORT: COLORADO RAPIDS - OUT: MF Matt Crawford (R quadriceps strain); DOUBTFUL: MF Terry Cooke (R knee) ... FC DALLAS - OUT: MF Richard Mulrooney (R knee ACL tear); FW Eddie Johnson (R toe stress-related injury); FW Carlos Ruiz (R ankle sprain); QUESTIONABLE: MF Ronnie O'Brien (L hamstring strain); FW Roberto Mina (R hamstring strain)
INTERNATIONAL ABSENCES: none
WARNINGS: COL: DF Nat Borchers (20 CP) ... DAL: DF Clarence Goodson (19 CP)
The Western Conference rivals face off for the third of four meetings between the clubs this season, the second of two set for Denver. The final league meeting scheduled for Pizza Hut Park in Frisco on Oct. 8.
ALL-TIME (34 meetings): Rapids 14 wins (1 shootout), 47 goals ... FC Dallas 16 wins (2 shootout), 58 goals ... 4 draws
IN DENVER (17 meetings): Rapids 10 wins (0 shootout), 29 goals ... FC Dallas 4 wins (0 shootout), 24 goals ... 3 draws
The Colorado Rapids saw a halftime lead wasted as FC Dallas scored a pair of second-half goals to claim a 2-1 come-from-behind victory at the Cotton Bowl on May 18.
The Rapids jumped out to an early lead when Jean-Philippe Peguero powered through the heart of the box to meet a Chris Henderson and head Colorado into the lead (12).
But just after Ramon Nuñez came on for Oscar Pareja - given the starting job in central midfield with the season-ending injury to Richard Mulrooney - FC Dallas struck back. Nuñez hooked in a fine cross that found O'Brien, and he sent a sneaky left-footed shot from the top of the area just after the hour.
Then Carlos Ruiz finished off the comeback in the 77th minute, Clarence Goodson corralling a loose ball and finding the Guatemalan international unmarked at the back post for an easy tap-in.
Here's Colin Clarke's team (4-4-2): Scott Garlick - Bobby Rhine, Clarence Goodson, Greg Vanney, Chris Gbandi - Ronnie O'Brien, Simo Valakari, Oscar Pareja (Ramon Nunez 60), Carey Talley (Aaron Pitchkolan 10) - Eddie Johnson, Carlos Ruiz (Drew Moor 87)
Here's Fernando Clavijo's team (4-4-2): Joe Cannon - Ricky Lewis (Matt Crawford 59), Nat Borchers, Ritchie Kotschau, Eric Denton - Luchi Gonzalez, Guy Melamed, Pablo Mastroeni (Kyle Beckerman 15), Chris Henderson - Alain Nkong (Jeff Cunningham 70), Jean Philippe Peguero
FC Dallas remained undefeated on the season while the Rapids claimed their first point on the season when they played to a scoreless draw April 9 in Denver.
While FC Dallas remained unbeaten, the Rapids continued their good form at home. But the game almost took an abrupt change in the first minute when Carlos Ruiz's corner found Eddie Johnson, but his header was denied by the crossbar.
The teams split the season series a year ago. They played to 1-1 draws at each ground in the first two meetings, before each team won at home.
The clubs played to a draw in the season opener for both teams on April 3 at the Cotton Bowl (Rhine 75 pen - Spencer 36), then it was another draw at Invesco Field on June 19 (Henderson 51 - Kreis 49).
A late penalty gave the then-Burn a dramatic 1-0 victory in Dallas on Aug. 7 (Johnson 90 pen), but the Rapids rebounded to claim a 2-1 victory in the Mile High City on Sept. 4 (Spencer 52, Borchers 85 - Behncke 43)
It was the second consecutive season and third in the last four where the teams had split honors in the season series. The Burn won the 2002 series with two victories to Colorado's one (and one draw).
Coaches record: Colin Clarke vs. COL: P7 W3 L1 D3 ... Fernando Clavijo v DAL: P7 W2 L3 T2
Cunningham hit for his first professional hat trick as the Rapids prised open the Chivas defense time and again on their way to a second victory in a week, after just two in their first 12 games.
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.
Rapids coach Fernando Clavijo made two changes to the team that held on to knock off the Los Angeles Galaxy 1-0 the previous Wednesday. Pablo Mastroeni and Guy Melamed were both suspended after being sent off in the Galaxy match, and Alain Nkong and Kyle Beckerman came into the lineup in their places.
Here's Clavijo's team (4-4-2): Joe Cannon - Ricky Lewis (Amir Lowery 89), Nat Borchers, Mike Petke, Eric Denton - Alain Nkong, Kyle Beckerman, Leo Cullen, Luchi Gonzalez (Dan Gargan 78) - Jeff Cunningham (Wolde Harris 82), Jean-Philippe Peguero
"Our team, when you look at the way we played against Los Angeles, with nine players, and today was a continuation of that effort. The attitude was there from the beginning. I thought that not only we scored some great goals, but the effort from the team was there from the beginning. And we kept it up, our fitness was there, and I think we outplayed Chivas," Clavijo said. "But again, with six points, it comes at a great time for us, but it's just two games, we have a lot of games ahead of us and we have to concentrate and to keep adding points."
The Colorado Rapids won back-to-back games for the first time this season, getting a hat trick from Jeff Cunningham in a 3-1 victory against Chivas USA at The Home Depot Center last Saturday. The Rapids moved into fourth place in the Western Conference with the victory with 14 points from 14 matches, two ahead of Real Salt Lake in the battle for the final playoff place, and four behind third-place San Jose Earthquakes.
Cunningham said the last time he had scored a hat trick was "in kindergarten, I believe." He moved to the top of the MLS Golden Boot standings with the treble.
"I can't take all the credit. My teammates did a very good job, especially Peguero, did a very good job of running the defense, creating space for me, and setting up the second goal. My teammates did a lot and when you play together as a unit it looks easy, rather than one or two persons carrying the team, so definitely a lot of credit goes to my teammates tonight."
Cunningham had been acquired from the Columbus Crew in the offseason for a first-round pick in next year's MLS SuperDraft. "We thought it was a reasonable transaction," Rapids governor Charlie Wright said. "Last year we were, some would say, anemic offensively. We needed to add a quality striker, and they're very hard to pick up in trades. When you see a game like tonight, you're very happy you did something like that."
Said Clavijo: "We knew when we got him that he was able to score goals. We didn't play him for seven or eight games because he was injured, but right now he's coming to full strength; he's healthy, so is [Jean-Philippe] Peguero. I think Jeff Cunningham is getting a lot of goals because a lot of people are doing the dirty work around him, allowing him to create the chances and allowing him to be one-on-one."
Another change over the two-game streak was the dropping of veteran defender Ritchie Kotschau. He played 28 games a season ago at both left back and in central defense. "Obviously, I'm not happy with it. I can't accept it," said Kotschau to the Rocky Mountain News. "I'll just keep pushing in practice." Said Clavijo: "This is professional sports. As individuals, I like them all. As soccer players, they need to perform and show me they belong on the field."
FC Dallas dominated the first half, but had just one goal to show. Oscar Pareja - very influential in a rare start - sent Roberto Mina with a long through ball up the center of the park, and the Ecuadorian international clinically beat Chivas 'keeper Brad Guzan (18).
After the break, Chivas drew level. Hector Cuadros found Matt Taylor with a fine pass at the end of a tic-tac-toe passing movement, and the second-year striker hit a low shot past FCD 'keeper Scott Garlick for his first goal for Chivas (48).
But with nine minutes left, Arturo Alvarez combined with David Wagenfuhr on the left flank, and the defender's cross found substitute Abe Thompson in front of goal, and he headed home for the match-winner, his second professional goal.
FC Dallas boss made two changes to the team that knocked off the Los Angeles Galaxy 1-0 four nights earlier at the Cotton Bowl. Ronnie O'Brien was given the night off as Oscar Pareja made his first start in more than a month, while David Wagenfuhr also returned to the lineup, coming in for Chris Gbandi at left back.
Here's Clarke's team (4-1-4-1): Scott Garlick - Drew Moor, Clarence Goodson, Greg Vanney, David Wagenfuhr - Simo Valakari - Bobby Rhine (Carey Talley 85), Aaron Pitchkolan, Oscar Pareja (Ramon Nunez 59), Arturo Alvarez - Roberto Mina (Abe Thompson 61)
"They needed a goal and got it and that gave them a big lift. They're a dangerous club. We've said that all along. The results haven't been great, but if you give them something they have some good players that can pass the ball," Clarke said. "We should have won the game more confidently then we did, but we showed a lot of character to come back and get the result we needed."
FC Dallas completed a sweep of their two-game home spell, winning for the sixth time in seven matches in claiming a late 2-1 victory against Chivas USA on Wednesday night at the Cotton Bowl. FC Dallas now lead the Western Conference by six points over the Los Angeles Galaxy, with 30 points from 14 games, and are two points ahead of East leader New England Revolution in the race for the league's best overall record.
For Pareja, it was just his third start of the campaign, and first since May 18, a 2-1 victory against the Colorado Rapids. The veteran Colombian midfielder has already announced he'll be hanging up his playing boots following this season. "I was charged today," said Pareja. "I just tried to get behind the midfielders and get the ball in good spots to create some dangerous plays."
"I thought Oscar controlled the game the first half," said Clarke. "I thought he was great in possession, his passing was good, his movement was sharp, great ball for the goal. He looked like he was 27 out there."
Wagenfuhr also made his first start in a while. After starting the first seven games at left back, he went down with a knee injury May 14 in San Jose, and had made just two substitute appearances since. "I thought Wags got forward well all night, crossed a good ball and got us another one," Clarke said.
The 36-year-old Pareja gave some veteran leadership to a very young first team that Clarke fielded, which included five players in their first or second years in MLS.
"I'm yelling and screaming on the sideline, but they are learning as they go along. They've been playing very well for us," Clarke said. "There were seven rookies on the field when we scored the tying goal and that bodes well for our future. The stuff they are learning now and as we go on is invaluable to their growth as players."
Thompson has now found the back of the net twice in four matches, after making his professional debut just five games ago, May 28 in a 2-0 win against his hometown club of D.C. United. "It was great feeling to score that goal. I entered the match with the score tied 1-1 and felt it was a great chance for me to make my home debut and show our FC Dallas fans what I can do," Thompson said. "The feeling was awesome to come in and get the game-winner and help my team come away with three points, which kept us atop the West."
Ramon Nuñez returned to the team after playing all three games for Honduras in the FIFA World Youth Championship - a disaster for the Central American country, twice outscored 7-0 and winless in three group games, allowing 17 goals in all. "I knew it would be tough before I went over there," he said. "But I got a lot out of it."