The Los Angeles Galaxy overcame one hurdle in their aim to play in MLS Cup 2004 on their own field, but now a larger one looms in a week's time.
The Galaxy knocked off the Colorado Rapids 2-0 at The Home Depot Center on Saturday night to win the Western Conference Semifinal series between the teams 2-1 on aggregate goals. Their opponent will be Kansas City, a team that has had the Galaxy's number over the past two seasons.
To make the task even tougher, the game will be at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City. The Galaxy have struggled on the road all this season and last, so finding themselves at home for the MLS Cup Final could be a very difficult task.
Saturday night, the Galaxy took the game to the Rapids from the outset, dominating both possession and scoring chances. In the second half, the Galaxy continued to attack, but eventually would concentrate on defense in order to preserve the result.
"Psychologically we tried to take the game 45 minutes at a time." said Galaxy head coach Steve Sampson.
Carlos Ruiz opened the scoring in the 30th minute off a Jovan Kirovski corner kick, then they added to their tally just before the first half whistle, as Tyrone Marshall put away a loose ball in the Rapids penalty area, a goal that too came off of a Kirovski free kick.
The Rapids really managed to generate very few quality scoring chances all night. Even in the second half, with elimination looming, the run of play fell in favor of the Galaxy, and the Galaxy back four was a key part to the victory at both ends of the field.
Kevin Hartman was credited with the shutout for the Galaxy, but he didn't really have to make any big saves until a desperate flurry by the Rapids found Hartman stretched to his limits in second half stoppage time.
"I really didn't have anything to do out there tonight," Hartman said. "The guys in front of me did tremendously."
Not only did the back line do a great job of shutting down the Rapids all night, especially in the second half when the needed a goal to even the series, they did a great job of Joining the attack. Right back Chris Albright played a huge role in both Galaxy goals, getting credit for an assist on one.
Albright managed to get his head on two Jovan Kirovski free kicks that would eventually find their way into the back of the net. Ruiz slotted home Albright's flick header for the first, while Marshall stabbed home the second after Rapids defender Ricky Lewis couldn't get Albright's header off his feet.
"It felt great to get in on the goals," Albright said. "I somehow managed to get the balls down, and the guys took care of the rest."
Like Albright, Marshall knows the importance the Galaxy back four will play in the attack.
"We're going to pull out all the stops next week and bring it back here to the Home Depot (for the MLS Cup Final)." Marshall said.
But in order to be playing for a second MLS title in club history, the Galaxy will need to steal a result on the road on Friday. That has been a struggle for the Galaxy over the past two seasons, and Samspon addressed it after the game.
"I don't like the way this team plays on the road," Sampson said. "... We know we can play a lot better than we did last time against them. This time the circumstances are a lot different."
Sampson came out of the game with one major concern in his starting lineup next week. Cobi Jones left the game early in the second half after re-aggravating an Achilles tendon injury.
"We'll have to put a rush on everything," Jones said. "I plan to be ready."
Greg Daurio is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.