Another goal from Jeff Cunningham off the substitutes bench powered a 10-man Colorado Rapids to a 2-1 victory against Chivas USA in a fiercely contested game Saturday night at Invesco Field at Mile High, that once again featured a bizarre ending.
Chris Henderson had converted from the penalty spot to give the Rapids a first-half lead, but a tremendous long-range strike from Ryan Suarez pulled Chivas USA level. The Rapids played the final 17 minutes a man down after Hunter Freeman was sent off, just six minutes before Cunningham's fourth goal of the season -- all after coming on as a sub -- gave Colorado its second win on the season.
After allowing three goals in each of the last two matches, Rapids coach Fernando Clavijo sent out in a very defensive lineup, with both Eric Denton and Guy Melamed (each of whom had previously featured only in the defense) starting in the midfield.
Although Chivas USA controlled most of the possession in the first half, the Rapids had the better of the scoring chances, and as he has so often in recent weeks for Chivas USA, Brad Guzan came up with two excellent saves in the 23rd minute.
Alfonso Loera was unable to control a long ball from Nat Borchers, and the bounce fell straight to Jean Philippe Peguero at the top of the box. Peguero's quick touch caromed off an onrushing Guzan, and the rebound went straight to an unmarked Luchi Gonzalez. Guzan, however, was able to leap high and snag Gonzalez's chip before it went over his head and into an open goal.
The first Rapids goal came in the 30th minute. Loera attempted to control Henderson's cross from the left, but the ball bounced off the Chivas USA defender's thigh into his arm, and referee Ricardo Valenzuela immediately whistled for a penalty. Guzan guessed wrong on the kick, allowing Henderson to power the ball into the net for his first goal of the season.
Chivas USA almost evened the score in the 33rd minute as a series of quick passes among the Chivas USA forwards opened up space for the trailing Douglas Sequeira. His hard shot from the top of the box seemed to catch Rapids 'keeper Joe Cannon a little by surprise, but it went wide of the post.
Guzan continued his brick-wall imitation in the beginning of the second half. In the 46th minute Luchi Gonzalez, as he had all night, received a pass with tons of space on the right side of the field. He streaked into the box and beat his man with a nice cutback, but his rocket of a shot bounced off of Guzan's chest and was easily collected by the Chivas USA 'keeper.
Three minutes after coming on, Cunningham nearly added to his team-leading three goals in the 64th minute. A nice pass from Freeman went straight to him, but Guzan was able to palm the ball over the bar. The resulting corner kick led to a scramble in the box, but after the ball bounced off Francisco Mendoza, who was guarding the post and was then headed off the crossbar, Peguero headed the ball off of Guzan and over the bar for another corner. The second corner came to nothing.
Suarez tied the game in the 66th minute with a powerful blast. After charging forward and receiving a pass in midfield, the defender carried the ball to the top of the restraining arc where he unleashed a swerving shot that powered past Cannon and into the upper right corner of the goal.
The 73rd minute saw Freeman hit the showers early, receiving a straight red card for a hard challenge. After Mendoza beat Freeman along the wing and was headed for the box, Freeman attempted a slide tackle. The tackle was high, catching Mendoza across the shins and sending him sprawling, and Valenzuela wasted no time in showing him red.
But it was the Rapids who stepped up their game and took the lead again in the 79th minute. Peguero received a pass from Melamed and, after drawing Loera to him, slotted a pass to the wide open Cunningham. Cunningham took his time and slotted the ball past the stranded Guzan.
The game almost ended in controversy in extra time. After an injury stoppage, Chivas USA threw the ball in directly to Cannon. But Chivas USA substitute Isaac Romo darted in front of Cannon, who was bending down to pick up the ball, rounded the Rapids 'keeper and fired the ball into the unguarded goal for the apparent tying goal.
Before the ball went into the net however, Valenzuela blew his whistle and awarded a free kick for the Rapids where the ball was stolen. While there could be debate about whether the call was strictly within the laws of the game, it did support the spirit of fair play and sportsmanship, and ended up preserving a second win on the seaosn for the Rapids.
MLSnet.com Man of the Match: Jeff Cunningham (Colorado Rapids)
Geoffrey Urland is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.
CD Chivas USA (1-5-1) vs. Colorado Rapids (2-4-1)
May 14, 2005 -- Invesco Field at Mile High
COL -- Chris Henderson 1 (penalty kick) 30
CHV -- Ryan Suarez 1 (Ramon Ramirez 3) 67
COL -- Jeff Cunningham 4 (Jean Philippe Peguero 1, Guy Melamed 1) 78
CD Chivas USA -- Brad Guzan, Ezra Hendrickson, Alfonso Loera (Matt Taylor 83), Ryan Suarez, Armando Begines (Arturo Torres 63), Hector Cuadros, Orlando Perez, Ramon Ramirez, Douglas Sequeira, Francisco Mendoza, Thiago Martins (Isaac Romo 68).
Substitutes Not Used: Javier Barragan, Jesus Ochoa.
TOTAL SHOTS: 9 (Douglas Sequeira 3); SHOTS ON GOAL: 2 (Orlando Perez 1, Ryan Suarez 1); FOULS: 18 (3 tied with 3); OFFSIDES: 2 (Thiago Martins 1, Ramon Ramirez 1); CORNER KICKS: 4 (Orlando Perez 2, Ramon Ramirez 2); SAVES: 7 (Brad Guzan 7)
Colorado Rapids -- Joe Cannon, Hunter Freeman, Nat Borchers, Ritchie Kotschau, Ricky Lewis, Eric Denton, Chris Henderson (Jeff Cunningham 61), Kyle Beckerman (Alain Nkong 71), Guy Melamed, Luchi Gonzalez, Jean Philippe Peguero (Leo Cullen 83).
Substitutes Not Used: Mark Chung, Matt Crawford, Byron Foss, Dan Gargan, Wolde Harris, Amir Lowery.
TOTAL SHOTS: 17 (Jean Philippe Peguero 5); SHOTS ON GOAL: 9 (Luchi Gonzalez 4); FOULS: 17 (Hunter Freeman 3); OFFSIDES: 3 (Jeff Cunningham 2); CORNER KICKS: 5 (Eric Denton 4); SAVES: 1 (Joe Cannon 1)
COL -- Nat Borchers (caution; Persistent Infringement) 18
COL -- Jean Philippe Peguero (caution; Dissent) 56
COL -- Hunter Freeman (ejection; Serious Foul Play) 73
COL -- Joe Cannon (caution; Dissent) 73
CHV -- Ramon Ramirez (caution; Dissent) 75
COL -- Alain Nkong (caution; Reckless Foul) 79
COL -- Ricky Lewis (caution; Delaying a Restart) 86
Referee: Ricardo Valenzuela
Referee's Assistants: -Steven Davidson; Fabio Tovar
4th Official: Ben Chouaf
Time of Game: 1:55
All statistics contained in this boxscore are unofficial.