AP

LA looks to start strong vs. Colorado

COLORADO RAPIDS vs. LA GALAXY
DICK'S SPORTING GOODS PARK, Commerce City, Colo.
March 29, 2008 | 7:30 p.m. MT (FSC/FSE; HDNet)
WEEK # 1 | GAME # 5

Two Western Conference clubs looking to return to the MLS Cup Playoffs get their seasons started by facing each other, as the Los Angeles Galaxy travel to Colorado to face the Rapids. The Rapids found themselves out of the postseason for the first time since 2001 last year, while the Galaxy missed out for the second consecutive season after reaching the playoffs in each of the first 10 seasons in MLS history.

REFEREE: Abbey Okulaja. SAR (bench): Jose Corro; JAR (opposite): Peter Manikowski; 4th: Shane Moody
MLS Career: 72 games; FC/gm: 29.6; Y/gm: 3.6; R: 9; pens: 19
Games involving Rapids: P11 W5 L5 T1; FC/gm: 29.5; Y/gm: 3.8; R: 1; pens: 3
INJURY REPORT: COLORADO RAPIDS - OUT: FW Conor Casey (L knee); DF Ugo Ihemelu (R hip); DF Mike Petke (R foot); DOUBTFUL: MF Mehdi Ballouchy (L hamstring); FW Jovan Kirovski (R hamstring); QUESTIONABLE: MF Rafael Gomes (L hamstring); MF Colin Clark (L hamstring); MF Nico Colaluca (L groin); PROBABLE: FW Omar Cummings (R ankle) ... LOS ANGELES GALAXY - OUT: GK Charles Alamo (R knee surgery); DF Ante Jazic (R ankle surgery); DOUBTFUL: DF Julian Valentin (R ankle); PROBABLE: FW Alan Gordon (R ankle); MF Peter Vagenas (R quadriceps)
INTERNATIONAL ABSENCES: none
SUSPENDED: none

HEAD-TO-HEAD
ALL-TIME (47 meetings): Rapids 18 wins (1 shootout), 50 goals ... Galaxy 24 wins (2 shootout), 73 goals ... Ties 5 IN COLORADO: (24 meetings): Rapids 14 wins (0 shootout), 31 goals ... Galaxy 7 wins (1 shootout), 26 goals ... Ties 3
• This is the first of three meetings between the clubs this season, the only visit by the Galaxy to Commerce City. They next meet on June 7 at The Home Depot Center, then conclude the season series on Oct. 12 in Carson.
LAST YEAR (MLS): 5/26: COL 1, LA 0 (Gomez 71) 8/26: COL 3, LA 0 (Casey 26; Clark 34; Petke 43) 9/8: LA 3, COL 1 (Gordon 46; Buddle 63; Martino 70 - Ballouchy 89)
• The Rapids won the season series last year as home form held way, Colorado winning the two meetings at Dick's Sporting Goods Park while the Galaxy won the lone contest in Carson.
• In regular season play, the Galaxy haven't won in Colorado since July 13, 2002 - a span of 10 matches. The Rapids have won the last six league meetings in the Rocky Mountain State, and the Galaxy haven't scored a regular season goal in Colorado since April 17, 2004 - a span of 700 minutes entering this year's season opener.
• However, the Galaxy did record a 2-0 victory against the Rapids in Denver in the 2005 Western Conference Championship at Invesco Field at Mile High, on their way to the second MLS title in club history. The Galaxy have won three of four playoff meetings between the teams in Colorado.
• Last year's Galaxy victory at The Home Depot Center was their first there against the Rapids since Sept. 10, 2005. In the 2006 series, the Rapids won one contest and the teams played to a scoreless draw in the other.
• Coaches record: Fernando Clavijo v LA: P15 W9 L4 D2 ... Ruud Gullit vs. COL: first game

COLORADO RAPIDS
The Colorado Rapids open the 2008 season, their second at Dick's Sporting Goods Park, in a bid to return to the MLS Cup Playoffs after seeing a five-year string of postseason qualification ended last year. Fernando Clavijo begins his fourth year in charge of the Rapids, having taken the club to within 90 minutes of the MLS Cup Final in each of his first two seasons in Colorado.
• The Rapids concluded their preseason with a 1-0 victory against the Chicago Fire in Ridgeland, Miss. last Saturday night. The game's lone goal came from defender Stephen Keel in the 86th minute, heading home a Jose Burciaga Jr. freekick from the left side.
• Here's Clavijo's team: Bouna Coundoul, Kosuke Kimura (Dan Gargan 70), Facundo Erpen, Stephen Keel, Jose Luis Burciaga Jr., Terry Cooke, John DiRaimondo, Christian Gomez (Herculez Gomez 62), Nick LaBrocca (Pablo Mastroeni 81), Ciaran O'Brien, Omar Cummings
• The Rapids will enter the season with some injury concerns. Forward Conor Casey is out with a knee injury, while half of the back four in Ugo Ihemelu and Mike Petke are also both out to injury
• In the absence of Casey (out at least through mid-May), first-round SuperDraft selection Ciaran O'Brien could be tabbed to claim a starting berth, if Clavijo opts for a 4-4-2 tactical scheme. The Generation adidas member scored seven goals in 2007 for Univ. of California-Santa Barbara.
• The key offseason acquisition for the Rapids was Christian Gomez, the league's Most Valuable Player for the 2006 season and has been an MLS All-Star and member of the league's Best XI in each of his three full seasons in the U.S. top flight. He is second in goals to Taylor Twellman during that period and second in assists to Landon Donovan. Gomez will certainly fill the playmaking role, perhaps as an underneath forward if Clavijo goes with a 4-4-1-1 system.
• "Usually, either you have a typical forward who doesn't link with anyone else, who's going to score goals, or you have a playmaker who doesn't score that much. We're very lucky to have a player like Christian who's proven in this league and is capable of not only linking but also scoring," Clavijo said.
• The Rapids also made a international signing in the preseason, picking up Brazilian defensive midfielder Rafael Gomes. Gomes last was with CD Santa Clara in Portugal, but he had played professionally in Brazil since 2000. In his native country, Gomes played for Bragantino, Olaria, Atletico Mineiro and Vasco de Gama, where he spent seven years in that club's youth system. Gomes will likely sit in alongside Pablo Mastroeni.
• "I want to make sure that Christian Gomez has anything he needs defensively to be able to go offensively," Clavijo said. "I didn't bring him here to play defense. So I have to make sure that the defensive part of the team is in place. We're working extremely hard to make it happen."
• Late in the preseason, the Rapids had versatile Kelly Gray in camp. Gray, who can feature either as a right back or holding midfielder, was last with the Los Angeles Galaxy before being released early in the spring.

LOS ANGELES GALAXY
After missing out on the MLS Cup Playoffs for a second consecutive season - following 10 years of postseason qualification in the first 10 years of the league - it's a new beginning for the Los Angeles Galaxy. Dutch master Ruud Gullit has come in to take charge of the club; the one-time coach at Chelsea, Newcastle United and Feyenoord, he was also once named FIFA World Player of the Year.
• The Galaxy concluded their formal preseason friendly schedule with a scoreless draw against FC Dallas on March 15 at Pizza Hut Park.
• For that match, Gullit had David Beckham and Landon Donovan operating from wide midfield roles in a 4-5-1 that became a 4-3-3 as the Galaxy pushed forward, with Carlos Ruiz operating at the lone out-and-out striker.
• "I think we played an excellent game," Gullit said. "For most of the game, I think we dominated. I think we created some excellent chances also. I think several of the youngsters did well today and that was great experience for them at this level. It's still a matter of looking for the right shape."
• In the center of midfielder, Gullit has Brazilian acquisition Alvaro Pires sitting in behind the ball-hawking duo of Josh Tudela and Mike Randolph - who last year figured as the club's left back for much of the season.
• "You always look at the creative side," Gullit said. "The most important thing is to build a good foundation. It all builds up from the defense and midfield to up front. We're not yet where we want to be but hopefully, slowly we will get there."
• Another key acquisition in the offseason was the return of Greg Vanney to the club he called home from 1996-2001. Vanney spent 2007 with the Colorado Rapids and D.C. United, his third year back in MLS after a stint in France.
• Vanney and one-time Portuguese international Abel Xavier are at the heart of the back four, in front of Steve Cronin, who has inherited the starting goalkeeper job after the departure of veteran Joe Cannon. Coming into the season, Cronin has made six league appearances over three seasons.
• Beckham has been in fine form in the preseason, and on Wednesday made history when he won his 100th cap for the England national team, playing in the match against France in Paris. Beckham joins Peter Shilton, Billy Wright, Sir Bobby Charlton and Bobby Moore as the fifth player to reach the 100 cap mark for England.
• "He's an excellent player and a great example for the other players on the team, especially the youngsters. He has the experience we need to bring the youngsters to a new level," Gullit said.
• The Galaxy concluded their preseason with a 60-minute scrimmage against the San Fernando Valley Quakes (USL Premier Development League) at the club's annual FanFest on March 22, which the Galaxy won 3-1 behind first half goals from Carlos Ruiz, Michael Gavin and Landon Donovan.