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INVESCO FIELD at MILE HIGH
7 pm MT (FSC, HDNet, CSN-DC)
Very quietly, the Colorado Rapids have started to turn the corner, putting together a four-game unbeaten streak since just before the All-Star break and staying in contact with the teams above them in the Western Conference. They play host to a D.C. United that resoundingly put a three-loss week behind them at midweek, hitting for a season-high five goals in a rampant victory against Real Salt Lake that pulled the defending MLS Cup champion into a tie for second place in the tight Eastern Conference.
REFEREE: Baldomero Toledo. SAR (bench): Paul Scott; JAR (opposite): Jose Corro; 4th: Scott McCaslin
MLS Career: 17 games; FC/gm: 28.1; Y/gm: 3.7; R: 4; pens: 4
Games involving Rapids: P5 W0 L2 T3; FC/gm: 26.6; Y/gm: 3.8; R: 1; pens: 1
Games involving United: P4 W1 L0 T3; FC/gm: 24.3; Y/gm: 4.0; R: 0; pens: 1
INJURY REPORT: COLORADO RAPIDS - OUT: MF Matt Crawford (R hip strain); PROBABLE: DF Nat Borchers (R knee contusion); GK Joe Cannon (L abdominal strain); DF Dan Gargan (R neck sprain) ... D.C. UNITED - OUT: FW Alecko Eskandarian (concussion); DF David Stokes (ankle sprain); DF Kenny Arena (first metatarsal)
INTERNATIONAL ABSENCES: COL: FW Jeff Cunningham; MF Pablo Mastroeni (USA; Sept. 3 v Mexico) ... DC: FW Santino Quaranta (USA; Sept. 3 v Mexico)
SUSPENDED: DC: Josh Gros (through Sept. 4)
WARNINGS: COL: Nat Borchers (20 CP); Alain Nkong (8 add'l CP), Jean-Philippe Peguero (17 CP) ... DC: Ben Olsen (17 CP)
The teams are meeting for the first time this season, their only meeting set for the Mile High City. Their second meeting will come in two weeks time in the nation's capital, Sept. 17 at RFK Stadium.
A year ago, the teams evenly split their season series, each winning one of their three encounters with the third a draw.
The Rapids won the lone match in Denver, a 2-1 victory on May 22 (Roberts 13, Peguero 51 - Gros 48). The teams then played to a scoreless draw in their first meeting at RFK Stadium on June 12, United claiming a 3-1 victory on East Capitol Street on Aug. 11 (Adu 35, Stewart 40, og 64 - Spencer 73)
The Rapids victory in the first meeting a year ago was their first in five games in the series, since the first meeting in the 2002 campaign.
The two teams of course met in MLS Cup 1997, a 2-1 victory for United before a sellout crowd of 57,431 at a rain-soaked RFK Stadium.
Coaches record: Fernando Clavijo v DC: P8 W4 L4 T0 ... Peter Nowak vs. DC: P3 W1 L1 D1
ALL-TIME (22 meetings): Rapids 6 wins (1 shootout), 29 goals ... United 11 wins (2 shootout), 41 goals ... 5 draws
IN DENVER: (11 meetings): Rapids 4 wins (0 shootout), 18 goals ...United 5 wins (1 shootout), 19 goals ... 2 draws
Last Monday, United lost 6-2 to the Colorado Rapids in the Hall of Fame game in Oneonta, N.Y., the match surroundings the festivities that saw John Harkes, Marcelo Balboa, Tab Ramos and current Colorado coach Fernando Clavijo into the pantheon of U.S. soccer greats.
Matt Nickell and Shawn Kuykendall gave United an early two-goal lead, but Clavijo's finish after he was passed a penalty kick by Balboa and David Ben-Dayan goal pulled the Rapids level heading into the break.
In the second half, the Rapids blew the game open on goals from Luchi Gonzalez (another penalty), Ricky Lewis, Stephen Keel and Ben-Dayan's second.
United was coached by assistant coach Tom Soehn, who sent out a team filled with reserves. Here's United's team: Troy Perkins (Andrew Weber) - John Harkes (Stephen Deroux), Nick Van Sicklen (Ian Rodway), Tim Merritt, Kenny Arena, Clyde Simms, Jason Thompson, Nana Kuffour, John Wilson, Shawn Kuykendall, Matt Nickell.
Here's the Rapids team: Foss (Coundoul), Cullen, Lewis, Clavijo (Gargan), Freeman, Balboa (Keel), Beckerman (Gotsmanov), Cooke (Sagastume), Gonzalez (Harris), Peguero (Noel), Ben-Dayan.
The Rapids ran their unbeaten run to three matches as the New England Revolution finished a busy stretch with a tired loss by a 2-0 scoreline.
Alain Nkong finally broke through for the home side in the 78th minute, finishing off a neat passing movement. Eric Denton laid the ball back from inside the box, and Nkong hammered a low drive from 20 yards inside the left-hand corner.
Then eight minutes later Jean-Philippe Peguero made it 2-0 from the penalty spot, beating substitute Doug Warren in his first action of the season after New England 'keeper Matt Reis was sent off for pulling down Fabrice Noel after the Haitian international had rounded him to concede the penalty.
Rapids coach Fernando Clavijo made one change to the team that drew 1-1 with the San Jose Earthquakes four days prior at Spartan Stadium. Jeff Cunningham was with the U.S. national team for its World Cup qualifier against Trinidad & Tobago, so Luchi Gonzalez came into the attack.
Here's Clavijo's team (4-3-1-2): Joe Cannon - Hunter Freeman (Pablo Mastroeni 46), Nat Borchers, Mike Petke, Ritchie Kotschau - Terry Cooke (David Ben Dayan 70), Kyle Beckerman, Eric Denton - Alain Nkong - Luchi Gonzalez (Fabrice Noel 57), Jean Philippe Peguero
"I said all along it's going to be a long season and what matters is how we finish. We have nine games to go and we have a lot of work ahead of us," Clavijo said. "Today, for the first 75 minutes we were flat and a mistake could have made us pay. We managed to keep them away from our goal and we managed to finish."
The Colorado Rapids return to action for the first time in 2½ weeks, their last match a 2-0 victory against the New England Revolution in Denver on Aug. 17. The Rapids are still in fourth place in the Western Conference with 28 points from 23 matches, nine ahead of fifth-place Real Salt Lake in the playoff race, and seven behind third-place Los Angeles Galaxy.
At the half, Clavijo adjusted his team when he changed to a back three, Pablo Mastroeni coming into a central midfield role as right back Hunter Freeman was taken off.
"You have New England most of the season playing a 3-5-2 and today they played a 4-5-1 which freaked us out a little bit," Clavijo said. "We could not get the momentum, we could not penetrate and the chances they had at the beginning were because we lost possession in the middle of the park. I did not come into this game to get a point, so we made some adjustments and went with three in the back."
The introduction of Fabrice Noel also changed the match. He came on just before the hour, and his bustling activity up top greatly unsettled the Revolution defense. "I enjoyed the game and I just worked really hard and tried to pressure the defense," he said. "I just feel good. I tried to score the goal but the 'keeper just pushed me down and got the red card. I am going to work really hard in practice and do my best for the team."
The Rapids have solidified their hold on a place in the MLS Cup Playoffs with just one loss in their last six matches, with three victories and two draws.
"The way this team goes we have turned the corner. We are on a roll and like it or not how far we go is up to us., Cannon said. "Hopefully we are not peaking too early, and we are going to continue to work hard in every game and some games we will get better results."
The Rapids had two club members enshrined into the National Soccer Hall of Fame in Monday's fesitivities, Marcelo Balboa and current head coach Fernando Clavijo.
"Everybody keeps saying skill," Balboa said during his acceptance speech after a short highlight reel from his days with the U.S. national team. "But did you see me dribble anybody? Did you see me run by anybody? My job was to win the ball and give it to the skillful guys."
Balboa shared the credit with his many coaches and teammates throughout the years, as well as praising MLS for providing him with the opportunity to play the game he loves at home: "It's a team game," he said. "I wouldn't be standing here without all of them. Thank you to MLS for making a dream come true for us. When the opportunity came, it was a real easy decision."
"I'm overwhelmed," said veterans' selection Clavijo. "I always worked because it was in my body. To be rewarded like this is the highlight of my life. Soccer has been my life as long as I can remember."
Rookie Guy Melamed has asked to be released, after discussions about him agreeing to a loan spell in his native Israel or the USL First Division (second tier) broke down, Clavijo told the Rocky Mountain News. "Out of the blue, he decided he wanted to be waived," Clavijo said. Melamed, 25, has played in 14 games this season but has appeared as a substitute once since July 23.
Jaime Moreno took over the lead in the MLS Golden Boot with a pair that gave him 90 for his MLS career, passing former United marksman Roy Lassiter for second in the league's all-time list and moving him 10 behind RSL striker Jason Kreis, the first to hit the century mark.
Moreno converted from the penalty spot after just 14 minutes to give United an early lead, after rookie Real 'keeper Jay Nolly tripped up Christian Gomez after he was put in alone on goal.
Then just before the break, Freddy Adu doubled the United lead when he slammed home a skimming drive from well outside the Real penalty area (46+).
Melvin Tarley pulled RSL back within one with his first MLS goal in his league debut, skipping around United 'keeper Nick Rimando then finishing into an empty net (51).
But Gomez restored the two-goal lead on 63 minutes, poking home his own rebound after Nolly failed to hold his first-time blast from a Josh Gros cross.
Moreno then made it 4-1 after seeing a couple of clear breakaways stopped, also hammering home a low drive from outside the area (78). Jamil Walker provided the final scoreline when the Real defense was once again split open and he clinically finished from inside the area (86).
It could have been even worse: twice Real defender Eddie Pope cleared balls off the line. Real finished the game with 10 men after Kenny Cutler was sent off for a second bookable offense late in the match.
United boss Peter Nowak made two changes to the team that lost 2-1 in heartbreaking fashion to the New England Revolution the weekend before in Foxborough. Bryan Namoff came in on the left side of midfield for the suspended Dema Kovalenko, and Freddy Adu returned from injury to replace Santino Quaranta in attack, who was away on international duty.
Here's Nowak's team (3-4-1-2): Nick Rimando - Facundo Erpen, Bobby Boswell, Brandon Prideaux - Joshua Gros, Brian Carroll, Ben Olsen (Clyde Simms 80), Bryan Namoff - Christian Gomez (Jamil Walker 76) - Freddy Adu, Jaime Moreno (Matt Nickell 83)
"We had enough chances to win the game, for sure," said Nowak. "But I wasn't happy - again - with how we started the second half. We had a couple of chances to put this game away, and then we give up the goal, which Real made really difficult for us."
D.C. United put an end to their brief two-match losing streak in resounding fashion, thrashing Real Salt Lake 5-1 on Wednesday night at RFK Stadium. Now on 41 points from 25 matches, United pulled into a tie for second place in the Eastern Conference with the Kansas City Wizards, four points behind leader New England Revolution and two ahead of fourth-place Chicago Fire.
Earlier in the day, Freddy Adu has received his full driver's license. Then against Real, the 16-year-old put in a composed, mature performance.
"Going into the game, we said we were going to try to score a lot of goals," he said. "I've been coached by different people, and all my coaches said, if we can beat a team 10-1, go ahead and do it. Don't play down to anybody's standards. I'm not saying that Real Salt Lake is a bad team, but I feel like D.C. United is the team to beat in the league when we play our best."
United exposed the Real back four all night long, but Tarley's goal early in the second half caused some anxious moments until the Black-and-Red broke the match open.
"We knew we were due to explode and have a lot of goals in one of these games sometime soon," said Adu. "We have a lot of chances, we just don't finish them. We've been working a lot on finishing, actually, after practice, and it paid off."
United will host the first leg of their inaugural Copa Sudamericana tie on Tues., Sept. 13 at RFK Stadium. They will likely face Universidad Catolica of Chile in the round-of-16, 5-0 winners against Peruvian outfit Alianza Atletico in their first leg of their home-and-home series on Tuesday.