The Los Angeles Galaxy used their home-field advantage to full measure, scoring a pair of goals in the first half to overcome a first-leg deficit and defeat the Colorado Rapids 2-0 on Saturday night at The Home Depot Center, winning their Western Conference Semifinal series 2-1 on aggregate.
Trailing 1-0 after Game 1 in Denver, the emphasis all week for the Galaxy had been goal scoring. L.A. came out early, dominating the run of play from the start and creating most of the scoring opportunities. The Galaxy capitalized on a pair of those chances, getting opportunistic goals from Carlos Ruiz in the 30th minute and Tyrone Marshall in first-half added time, to move into the Western Conference Final next Friday against the Kansas City Wizards at Arrowhead Stadium.
The Galaxy nearly got on the board with the game's opening salvo. In the eighth minute, Marcelo Saragosa unleashed a wicked shot from just outside the penalty area that beat Rapids 'keeper Joe Cannon, only for the ball to crash back off the face of the crossbar, and the Rapids defense quickly cleared the ball from danger.
Colorado's best and only chance of the first half came in the 24th minute, when Kyle Beckerman received a nice pass at the top of the Galaxy penalty area off a one-two with Jordan Cila. Beckerman tried to bend the ball towards the back post, but instead saw his effort go right to Kevin Hartman, who made the easy save.
Just a few minutes later, Jovan Kirovski again was creating a dangerous chance for the Galaxy. Ever threatening in the first leg, this time his shot from 20 yards out forced Cannon to make his best save of the half. The U.S. international dribbled to his right before hitting a low shot towards the back post, but Cannon made the save at full stretch.
The Galaxy then finally broke through in the 30th minute, after Kirovski sent a corner kick to the middle of the penalty area. Chris Albright ran onto the ball and sent a flick header to the back post where Ruiz was lurking, and with a deft touch the Guatemala international tapped the ball into the back of the net to give L.A. the lead and level the series on aggregate.
Things got a little chippy in the 41st minute, as Ruiz -- who had felt his share of tough marking all half -- took down Kyle Beckerman on a late challenge. Beckerman got up off of the ground and threw a shoulder into Ruiz right in front of referee Michael Kennedy, who promptly showed both players yellow cards.
The Galaxy then doubled their lead in stoppage time. Once again, Kirovski would find himself standing over a free kick, this time from the right flank. His cross again found the head of Albright, who headed the ball down inside the six-yard box, right at the feet off Rapids defender Ricky Lewis.
But the former Galaxy fullback failed to clear the ball quickly, and Marshall lunged in to stab the ball home and send the home side into the halftime break leading in the series.
Now trailing on aggregate score, the Rapids came out in the second half desperate for goals -- but the Galaxy were in no mood to sit back and defend, as they once again came out and dominated play early, looking for an insurance goal. They almost found it in the 61st minute, when a long looping cross fell into the path of Sasha Victorine, but his shot fired from just inside the penalty area was again pushed aside by a diving Cannon.
Los Angeles was just inches away again in the 68th minute as Ruiz nearly claimed his second on the night. With the ball at his feet and a defender on his back, he quickly turned and fired a low shot from inside the penalty area that forced Cannon to make another diving save, as the MVP candidate desperately tried to keep his team's season alive.
Things got frantic as five minutes of stoppage time were added, the Rapids pushing everyone forward to try and get even on aggregate before full time. Nat Borchers and Matt Crawford just missed with chances, then Mark Chung forced Hartman into his best stop of the night, extending to the furthest degree of his reach to push a dipping shot just over the crossbar, Chung left holding his head in his hands as the Galaxy survived.
Los Angeles will now travel to Kansas City to square off with the Wizards for the Western Conference Final, set for Fri. Nov. 7 at Arrowhead Stadium (8:30 p.m. ET, Fox Sports World/Espanol; HDNet).
MLSnet.com Man of the Match: Jovan Kirovski (Los Angeles Galaxy)
Colorado Rapids (1-1-0) vs. Los Angeles Galaxy (1-1-0)
October 30, 2004 -- The Home Depot Center
LA -- Carlos Ruiz 1 (Chris Albright 1, Jovan Kirovski 1) 30
LA -- Tyrone Marshall 1 (unassisted) 48+
Colorado Rapids -- Joe Cannon, Matt Crawford, Nat Borchers, Ritchie Kotschau, Ricky Lewis (Gary Sullivan 77), Chris Henderson, Kyle Beckerman (Seth Trembly 55), Pablo Mastroeni, Mark Chung, Jordan Cila (Rey Angel Martinez 75), Jean Philippe Peguero.
Substitutes Not Used: Antonio de la Torre, Scott Vallow.
TOTAL SHOTS: 7 (Mark Chung 2); SHOTS ON GOAL: 3 (Mark Chung 2); FOULS: 19 (Chris Henderson 4, Ritchie Kotschau 4); OFFSIDES: 2 (Jordan Cila 1, Chris Henderson 1); CORNER KICKS: 6 (Matt Crawford 5); SAVES: 3 (Joe Cannon 3)
Los Angeles Galaxy -- Kevin Hartman, Chris Albright, Danny Califf, Tyrone Marshall, Paul Broome, Cobi Jones (Arturo Torres 51), Marcelo Saragosa, Peter Vagenas, Sasha Victorine (Ryan Suarez 81), Carlos Ruiz, Jovan Kirovski.
Substitutes Not Used: Josh Gardner, Alan Gordon, Ned Grabavoy, Andreas Herzog, Alejandro Moreno, Joseph Ngwenya, Dan Popik.
TOTAL SHOTS: 11 (Carlos Ruiz 4); SHOTS ON GOAL: 5 (Carlos Ruiz 2); FOULS: 18 (Carlos Ruiz 7); OFFSIDES: 4 (Jovan Kirovski 2, Carlos Ruiz 2); CORNER KICKS: 2 (Jovan Kirovski 2); SAVES: 3 (Kevin Hartman 3)
COL -- Kyle Beckerman (caution; Professional Foul) 42
LA -- Carlos Ruiz (caution; Professional Foul) 42
COL -- Ritchie Kotschau (caution; Pushing, Holding) 52
LA -- Jovan Kirovski (caution; Pushing, Holding) 74
LA -- Kevin Hartman (caution; Delaying a Restart) 76
Referee: Michael Kennedy
Referee's Assistants: Nathan Clement; Steven Davidson
4th Official: Kevin Stott
Time of Game: 1:55
All statistics contained in this boxscore are unofficial.