There's a reason why the Colorado Rapids were among the MLS leaders in goals against this season, and his name is Joe Cannon.
The league MVP candidate reminded everyone of why he's considered to be one of the league's best goalkeepers last week against the Los Angeles Galaxy, in the Rapids 1-0 victory in the first leg of the Western Conference Semifinal series between the two clubs. In a game that saw the majority of scoring chances fall in favor of Los Angeles, Cannon was equal to every test.
But the Galaxy have an MVP of their own in net as well. Kevin Hartman was named the club's MVP for 2004 earlier this week, and he knows that he and his defense are going to have to play at the top of their games if the Galaxy is to have any chance of advancing to the conference final.
"We had a chance to come away with a win or a tie in Colorado, but Cannon came up huge." Hartman said. "At the same time, nobody is Superman. We have to continue to force him to make saves."
If the Galaxy can manage to get a couple of early goals, it will ease the pressure on a defense that is looking to pitch a perfect game Saturday.
Right back Chris Albright is one of those who has been a mainstay in the back four under head coach Steve Sampson, and who knows that all it takes is one mental lapse on the back line to drop L.A. even further behind.
"We're confident that we can score goals, but the No. 1 thing is keeping a clean sheet," he said.
The Galaxy need to end the 90 minutes ahead by one goal to at least extend the series into extra time, but a two-goal (or more) victory will send the Galaxy into the Western Conference Final and just one match from the MLS Cup Final on their own ground.
If they are to achieve that goal, the Galaxy defenders will likely have to play as big part in creating the goals their side need as they do in shutting down the Rapids attack.
Tyrone Marshall, Paul Broome and Albright all were All-American forwards in college, so none are strangers to the offensive side of the ball. Under Sampson, the fullbacks often find themselves pushing into the attack, giving support to the midfield, and whipping balls into the middle for the front runners. But that was something missing last weekend in Denver.
"After giving up that first goal we sat back more than usual," said Albright. "We felt all right coming home only trailing by one," before adding things will be different at The Home Depot Center.
"You'll be seeing me get up and down the field a lot more than in Colorado," he said. Albright is expected to be partnered with Broome on the left side of the Galaxy back four, as Sasha Victorine -- who started there in Denver -- moved back to his preferred left-sided midfield role. Sampson pointed out Broome played well when he came on as a second-half substitute, and since taking over, the Galaxy boss has given Broome full license to get forward.
In any case, every man on the Galaxy knows how important it is going to be to attack Colorado from the opening whistle. Even Hartman is showing a taste for the attack.
"We need to make sure we take the game to them and do whatever we can to make sure the game goes our way," he said.
Greg Daurio is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.