Although the Colorado Rapids came away with a vital 1-0 victory against the Los Angeles Galaxy in the first game of their Western Conference Semifinal, they know the series is far from over.
For one, Rapids coach Tim Hankinson didn't take long in identifying one glaring area where the Rapids need to improve in a week's time if they are to advance to the conference final.
"Our movement to keep possession off of the ball needs to be better," Hankinson said. "Possession is such a key at both ends of the park and we need to just concentrate our efforts there and work a little bit on understanding how they were trying to unbalance us [tonight]."
Goalkeeper Joe Cannon, the Rapids' 2004 team MVP and Man of the Match on Friday night, agreed with the assessment.
"It will be a tough battle for us and we can't afford to sit back," Cannon said. "We've got to try to take the game to them because if try to defend the whole time, [Los Angeles] is too good to do that for 90 minutes on their field."
Although the Rapids are known most for their defending -- allowing just 32 goals in 30 league matches -- Cannon said he felt that the playoff opener actually gave the defense a needed boost.
"To be honest, it's the first time I've had a shutout in a while, it's good to see the defense get that," Cannon said. "I think we needed it for our confidence."
Hankinson said it was too early, though, to begin thinking too much about the second leg in California next Saturday. "I never project this far ahead because we've had so many injuries to so many guys that we've been unable to put our final plan together until the day before the game when we see who's ready ... to play. I can't make a projection tonight," said Hankinson. "There was good balance in the squad tonight, so there's no reason to think it would be any different, but going on how the season has been it just depends on who is available."
Cannon believes that the key to game may be how the Rapids weather the opening storm.
"I wouldn't be surprised if they come thinking they have to score in the first 15 minutes and it's just going to be a matter of matching their intensity with our own," Cannon said. "If we can do that then we'll have a good shot ... and hopefully we'll give 100 percent and walk away with a win." Galaxy coach Steve Sampson sounded a warning for the Rapids, saying, "It is going to be very difficult for Colorado to play in our house."
Sampson felt his team played well early, but then after the Rapids took the lead, they were put on the back foot. But the Los Angeles coach pointed to Cannon as the difference.
"Joe Cannon was clearly the difference. He literally stopped three clear goals and, as far as I'm concerned, he is deserving of the goalkeeper of the year award. I think he made the difference," Sampson said. "The goal that he saved on Jovan Kirovski's header - only the best goalkeepers in the world make that kind of save."
Geoffrey Urland is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.