Continuing to rely on the formula that served them well in the regular season, the Colorado Rapids used an opportunistic goal from Jean Philippe Peguero and some supernatural goalkeeping from Joe Cannon to defeat the Los Angeles Galaxy 1-0 in the first game of their Western Conference Semifinal series on Friday night.
Peguero, the Rapids' regular season scoring leader, struck for the first goal of the 2004 playoffs and the game's only goal in the 30th minute, finally slamming home the rebound of a corner kick after Nat Borchers had two bites at the cherry.
Cannon, although he not overly tested by a Galaxy offense that appeared disjointed for much of the match and only forced him to make five saves, effortlessly squashed the most dangerous of the Galaxy's chances to earn his 11th clean sheet of the season in league and MLS Cup play.
From the opening kick, the Rapids had the better of the possession and the chances. Their first dangerous chance game came in the sixth minute as Peguero skied high to head a Matt Crawford corner kick, Galaxy 'keeper Kevin Hartman making a good reflex save.
The Galaxy responded in the ninth minute when Jovan Kirovski received the ball on the right side of the penalty area. A diving stab from center back Ritchie Kotschau blocked Kirovski's shot, and when the ball fell to Carlos Ruiz, Borchers was able to similarly stymie that effort.
Cannon came up with one of his patended amazing saves in the 24th minute. Danny Califf sent a powerful header from a Galaxy corner kick straight at goal, but Cannon quickly stretched in a dive and parried the ball over the crossbar.
Set pieces provided all the dangerous moments of the first half-hour, and it was no different when the Rapids took the lead. After a corner kick pinballed around the box, Borchers volleyed a shot that hit Peguero in the thigh as he stood two yards in front of the goal. Hartman had dived to his right to block the shot, and so could only watch helplessly as Peguero turned and powered the ball into the net.
The Galaxy almost tied the game three minutes as Ruiz squirmed through the Rapids' defense, collecting a ball that bounces over Borchers as he misjudged his clearance. The Guatemalan international attempted to chip the onrushing Cannon but his shot went well over the crossbar.
In the 40th minute Kotschau earned a yellow card -- after going the entire league campaign without one -- by flattening Joseph Ngwenya as they both challenged for a long Galaxy clearance. In general ,it was a physical encounter as referee Terry Vaughn blew his whistle for 38 fouls and let play continue after several other hard challenges.
The second half began much as the first ended, with the Rapids getting the better of the scoring chances. Jordan Cila had the first opportunity of the half as a through ball split the defense allowing him a free run at goal, but his shot under pressure from a pair of closing defenders went well wide.
Kirovski was the most dangerous player for the Galaxy on the night, but Cannon once again denied him in the 60th minute. His diving header of a low service from Paul Broome looked destined to sneak in the right post, but Cannon was able to stretch his fingertips out to push the ball around the post.
Kyle Beckerman almost manufactured a goal in the 69th minute with a hard shot from 25 yards out. Hartman could only parry the surprise effort and Chris Henderson almost pounced on it before Tyrone Marshall's two-footed slide blocked the ball out for a corner.
Kirovski had yet another great scoring chance in the 77th minute. His dipping, swerving free kick struck from just outside of the penalty box flew over the wall and caught Cannon going the wrong way, but it glanced off of the top of the crossbar.
The Galaxy held the advantage over the final exchanges as they looked for the equalizer, but Cannon ended all doubt in the 88th minute when he stopped one final Kirovski chance. After slicing through the Rapids defense, the U.S. international took a hard shot from the top of the box, but the Rapids 'keeper was perfectly placed to parry the shot away and out of trouble.
After going winless in four regular season meetings in 2004, the first Rapids victory in five postseason games all-time against the Galaxy puts them in control of the home-and-home Western Conference semifinal series. The second leg will be played Sat., Oct. 30 at The Home Depot Center (10 p.m. ET).
MLSnet.com Man of the Match: Joe Cannon (Colorado Rapids)
Los Angeles Galaxy (0-1-0) vs. Colorado Rapids (1-0-0)
Western Conference Semifinal
October 22, 2004 -- Invesco Field at Mile High
COL -- Jean Philippe Peguero 1 (Nat Borchers 1) 30
Los Angeles Galaxy -- Kevin Hartman, Chris Albright, Tyrone Marshall, Danny Califf, Sasha Victorine, Marcelo Saragosa, Peter Vagenas, Joseph Ngwenya (Cobi Jones 57), Jovan Kirovski (Alan Gordon 87), Alejandro Moreno (Paul Broome 61), Carlos Ruiz.
Substitutes Not Used: Chris Aloisi, Dan Popik.
TOTAL SHOTS: 13 (Jovan Kirovski 5); SHOTS ON GOAL: 5 (Jovan Kirovski 2); FOULS: 17 (Alejandro Moreno 3, Marcelo Saragosa 3); OFFSIDES: 1 (Carlos Ruiz 1); CORNER KICKS: 3 (Jovan Kirovski 3); SAVES: 3 (Kevin Hartman 3)
Colorado Rapids -- Joe Cannon, Matt Crawford, Nat Borchers, Ritchie Kotschau, Ricky Lewis, Chris Henderson (Gary Sullivan 89), Kyle Beckerman, Pablo Mastroeni, Mark Chung, Jordan Cila (Seth Trembly 88), Jean Philippe Peguero (Alberto Delgado 78).
Substitutes Not Used: Antonio de la Torre, Michael Erush, Rey Angel Martinez, Scott Vallow.
TOTAL SHOTS: 10 (Jean Philippe Peguero 4); SHOTS ON GOAL: 4 (Jean Philippe Peguero 3); FOULS: 21 (3 tied with 3); OFFSIDES: 0; CORNER KICKS: 4 (Matt Crawford 4); SAVES: 5 (Joe Cannon 5)
COL -- Ritchie Kotschau (caution; Reckless Foul) 40
LA -- Paul Broome (caution; Reckless Foul) 66
COL -- Pablo Mastroeni (caution; Reckless Foul) 76
Referee: Terry Vaughn
Referee's Assistants: -George Gansner; Steven Taylor
4th Official: Ricardo Valenzuela
Time of Game: 1:50
Weather: Partly Cloudy-and-53-degrees
All statistics contained in this boxscore are unofficial.