INVESCO FIELD at MILE HIGH
7 pm MT (FSC; Altitude; FSN-W2)
A vital match for both teams awaits in the Mile High City, one that could go far in determining their future in the Western Conference. The Colorado Rapids need three points to maintain their grip on the fourth and final playoff spot, but an impressive league win before the All-Star break was followed by elimination in the U.S. Open Cup by a second-tier club afterwards. For the Los Angeles Galaxy, they will have to find success on the road if are to maintain contact with the top two in the West - they haven't won away from The Home Depot Center in more than a year, and are facing six consecutive matches on the road away from Carson.
REFEREE: Erich Simmons. SAR (bench): Rob Fereday; JAR (opposite): Greg Barkey; 4th: Ben Chouaf
MLS Career: 15 games; FC/gm: 34.1; Y/gm: 4.4; R: 7; pens: 2
Games involving Rapids: P6 W2 L3 T1; FC/gm: 32.7; Y/gm: 4.8; R: 3; pens: 2
Games involving Galaxy: P3 W1 L1 T1; FC/gm: 29.3; Y/gm: 5.3; R: 0; pens: 0
INJURY REPORT: COLORADO RAPIDS - OUT: MF Matt Crawford (R quadriceps strain); FW Josh Elbaum (hernia); DF Pablo Mastroeni (R ankle sprain); PROBABLE: DF Mike Petke (R hip muscle pull) ... LOS ANGELES GALAXY - OUT: DF Tyrone Marshall (R hamstring strain); DF Ben Benditson (sports hernia)
INTERNATIONAL ABSENCES: none
WARNINGS: COL: Guy Melamed (18 CP); Kyle Beckerman (19 CP); Alain Nkong (10 CP in 2 gms) ... LA: Paulo Nagamura (18 CP)
ALL-TIME (38 meetings): Rapids 12 wins (1 shootout), 39 goals ... Galaxy 22 wins (2 shootout), 66 goals ... 4 draws
AT DENVER (19 meetings): Rapids 9 wins (0 shootout), 23 goals ... Galaxy 7 wins (1 shootout), 26 goals ... 3 draws
This is the third of four meetings between the clubs this season, and the second of two in Denver. They'll conclude their league series on Sept. 10 on Victoria Street.
Each team has won once in the series this season, each at home. In the first meeting, the Galaxy claimed a 3-2 victory at The Home Depot Center on May 8 under bizarre circumstances, with three late penalties called (two for Los Angeles, one for Colorado).
The Galaxy won their fourth game on the trot in a bizarre climax. The teams traded goals six minutes apart in the first half: Tyrone Marshall just reached in ahead of Chris Albright to poke home a corner kick (21), but Jean-Philippe Peguero powered home a header from the heart of the penalty area from a pinpoint Chris Henderson cross to pull the Rapids level.
Just as the match seems destined to wind down to a draw, the Galaxy won a penalty when Nat Borchers tripped up Guillermo Ramirez as he burst into the area, and Landon Donovan converted (86). Yet just two minutes later the Rapids received a penalty of their own, L.A. goalkeeper Kevin Hartman sending Luchi Gonzalez head over heels with his challenge as he slashed through the box, Jeff Cunningham neatly converting from the spot.
But just as the clock ticked over for the full 90 minutes, substitute Guy Melamed was adjudged by referee Jair Marrufo to have hauled back Marshall as they challenged for a free kick swung into the box, and despite the bitter recriminations from the Colorado players, Donovan sent Rapids 'keeper Joe Cannon the wrong way for the game winner.
The Rapids claimed a remarkable 1-0 victory on June 15 in Denver, surviving playing two men down for the final half-hour and riding an early penalty for their first victory in just more than a month (since May 14).
The Rapids took the lead after nine minutes when Cobi Jones clipped Jeff Cunningham in the area, and the veteran striker took his own penalty, putting it high past Kevin Hartman. It was his fifth goal on the campaign, but his first while in the starting lineup, and the first for the Rapids in 320 minutes.
But the Rapids went a man down just nine minutes later after Pablo Mastroeni was sent off for a flying tackle on opposite number Paulo Nagamura, then on the hour, Guy Melamed was also sent off for a two-footed tackle on Nagamura close to the top of the Galaxy box.
The Rapids survived an incredible sequence late in the match, a couple of balls hooked away from the goalmouth and Joe Cannon sticking out a toe to somehow deny Landon Donovan from close range. Cannon was credited with seven saves in making his fifth shutout of the season.
Here's Fernando Clavijo's team (4-4-2): Joe Cannon - Ricky Lewis, Nat Borchers, Mike Petke, Eric Denton - Leo Cullen, Pablo Mastroeni, Guy Melamed, Luchi Gonzalez (Alain Nkong 70) - Jean Philippe Peguero (Dan Gargan 76), Jeff Cunningham (Kyle Beckerman 63)
Here's Steve Sampson's team (4-4-2): Kevin Hartman - Ugo Ihemelu (Michael Umana 46), Pablo Chinchilla (Herculez Gomez 64), Tyrone Marshall, Todd Dunivant - Cobi Jones, Paulo Nagamura, Peter Vagenas, Ednaldo da Conceicao (Mubarike Chisoni 73) - Landon Donovan, Jovan Kirovski
A year ago, the Galaxy won one of the four league meetings between the two teams - with the other three ending in draws. The teams played to a 1-1 draw at Invesco Field at Mile High on April 17 (Peguero 9 - Ruiz 20), then almost exactly a month later (May 15) they played to a 1-1 draw in Carson (Moreno 61 - Peguero 71).
The Galaxy won 2-0 at home on July 10 in the first game of a home-and-home series (Grabavoy 39, Ruiz 80), the clubs playing to a scoreless draw four days later in Denver.
The teams then met in the Western Conference semifinals. Behind the stellar goalkeeping of Joe Cannon, the Rapids won the first game 1-0 in Denver, but the Galaxy came back to win the series with a 2-0 victory in the second leg at the HDC.
Last year was the first time since 2001 the Galaxy had won the season series - a four-game sweep that year. The teams had split the series in 2002, then the Rapids won two games in four meetings between the clubs in 2003 (with one draw).
Coaches record: Fernando Clavijo v LA: P6 W3 L2 D1 ... Steve Sampson vs. COL: P2 W1 L1 D0
The Colorado Rapids enter the second half of the campaign holding on to the final playoff spot in the Western Conference with 21 points from 20 matches, five points ahead of fifth-place Real Salt Lake and eight points behind third-place Los Angeles Galaxy. In their last match before the All-Star break, the Rapids won for the second time in four matches, thrashing the Chicago Fire 4-1 in Denver on July 23.
The Rapids responded to an early goal with two quick ones of their own, Alain Nkong hitting for a double while Jeff Cunningham again took over the league's goal scoring lead. Rookie Will Johnson - making his first-ever MLS start, gave the Fire a dream start, taking a pass across the top of the area before hammering a wicked strike past Joe Cannon inside his right-hand post (16).
But the Rapids answered quickly, taking the lead with two goals inside of four minutes. Kyle Beckerman's tackle in midfield won the ball to Cunningham, and after he raced at the heart of the Fire defense he laid the ball off to Nkong, who curled the ball inside the far post with a fine finish (23).
Then two defenders combined for the go-ahead goal, Ritchie Kotschau's ball putting Eric Denton in behind the Fire back four, and he ripped home a shot from a tight angle on the left, bouncing off the inside of the back post (26).
The Rapids finished off the match with two goals in the final quarter-hour. Cunningham scored his league-leading 10th goal of the campaign to finish a sequence of possession, Jean-Phillipe finding Nkong in the box before he immediately slipped Cunningham through, and he knocked it home just ahead of a challenge (75).
Nine minutes later Nkong completed his double, intercepting a pass in midfield before racing into the Fire area and driving home a low angled shot. He then did his best "Get Smart" imitation, taking off his shoe to dial home and tell family and friends the good news.
Rapids coach Fernando Clavijo made two changes to the team that lost 2-1 to the San Jose Earthquakes the previous Wednesday at home. Mike Petke was suspended and Leo Cullen returned to the substitutes bench, Guy Melamed coming back into the team and Alain Nkong returning from suspension as Clavijo changed his tactical scheme.
Here's Clavijo's team (3-4-1-2): Joe Cannon - Ricky Lewis, Nat Borchers, Ritchie Kotschau - Terry Cooke (Dan Gargan 58), Kyle Beckerman, Guy Melamed, Eric Denton - Alain Nkong (Hunter Freeman 89) - Jeff Cunningham, Luchi Gonzalez (Jean Philippe Peguero 63).
"The difference was the attitude," said Clavijo. "[It was the] same players, it was just attitude. I think we know that if we play from the beginning we can make things happen. ... It was a total effort for 90 minutes."
While the impressive victory sent the Rapids into the All-Star break on a high note, there was caution from the team's veterans. "It is just one game," said Ritchie Kotschau. "I don't want to rain on anyone's parade, but that's the truth. I do think this will rejuvenate a lot of the guys, but we've to go out and build on this."
On Wednesday, the Minnesota Thunder continued their giant-killing ways in the U.S. Open Cup, dumping the Rapids out of the competition with a 4-1 victory at James E. Griffin Stadium in St. Paul, Minn. To gain their place in the tie, the Thunder knocked off Real Salt Lake 6-4 in extra time in the third round.
Melvin Tarley scored all four goals for the Thunder, giving him six goals against MLS clubs in the competition. Tarley gave the Thunder the lead in the 38th minute when he beat Joe Cannon from the top of the penalty area, then doubled the lead two minutes after the break when he knocked him his own rebound of a saved shot.
Alain Nkong halved the Minnesota lead when buried a shot off a pass from Eric Denton in the 69th minute, but Tarley capped off his spectacular night with two goals in five minutes in quick response to the Colorado goal (72, 76).
Here's Clavijo's team: Joe Cannon, Ricky Lewis (Hunter Freeman 50), Nat Borchers, Ritchie Kotschau, Terry Cooke (Dan Gargan 66), Guy Melamed, Leo Cullen, Eric Denton, Alain Nkong, Luchi Gonzalez (Jean Philippe Peguero 50), Jeff Cunningham (Wolde Harris 59)
Tarley became the fifth player to hit for at least four goals in the Open Cup since the MLS era began in the tournament, and the only lower division player to ever do it against top-flight competition. Josh Wolff hit for four goals for the Chicago Fire against the Dallas Burn in the quarterfinals in 2000. The record holder is six goals by Mugurel Dimitru of the San Diego Flash (A-League) against the Arizona Sahuaros (D3 Pro) in the second round in 1999.
"Their team utilized the field pretty well, and we could never get a rhythm going," Clavijo said. "It's difficult to play and get rhythm on a narrow field, and it's hard to play when you can't get the ball ... I never thought we were out of it until his third goal. We made a defensive mistake and they punished us for it."
The Rapids signed Israeli international David "Dedi" Ben-Dayan to a deal, and he will be available after the Aug. 15 international transfer window re-opens. Ben-Dayan played eight seasons with Maccabi Tel Aviv, and has represented his country at under-18 and under-21 level.
LOS ANGELES GALAXY
The Los Angeles Galaxy enter the second half of the campaign in third place in the Western Conference with 29 points from 20 matches, five behind the first-place tie between FC Dallas and San Jose Earthquakes, and eight points ahead of the Colorado Rapids in the final playoff spot. In their final match before the All-Star break, the Galaxy saw their recent run extend to just one win in nine matches, playing to a 1-1 draw with the New England Revolution.
The Revolution and Galaxy shared the points in an entertaining draw in their final match before the midsummer break, the goals coming 10 minutes apart in the first half.
The Galaxy took the lead after 16 minutes, Herculez Gomez scoring his fourth goal in as many games. Landon Donovan split the defense with his through ball to find Gomez, and he raced into the area before widely rounding Revolution goalkeeper Matt Reis and rolling the ball home.
The Revolution drew level in the 26th minute from a Shalrie Joseph penalty. A cross was whipped in from the right, and as Ugo Ihemelu bent forward to head clear, the ball struck his hand and referee Marcel Yonan pointed to the spot. Joseph, captain for the night in place of the suspended Joe Franchino, struck his penalty to the lower left-hand corner just past the dive of Kevin Hartman.
Galaxy boss Steve Sampson made two changes to the team that lost 1-0 in dramatic fashion to D.C. United the Saturday previous at The Home Depot Center. Troy Roberts came in at right back as Chris Albright moved forward to a wide midfield role, Guillermo Ramirez going to a substitute's role. Landon Donovan made his return after missing four matches to international duty, coming in up top for Alan Gordon.
Here's Sampson's team (4-4-2): Kevin Hartman - Troy Roberts, Ugo Ihemelu, Tyrone Marshall (Michael Umana 5), Todd Dunivant - Chris Albright (Guillermo Ramirez 75), Paulo Nagamura, Peter Vagenas, Cobi Jones - Herculez Gomez (Joseph Ngwenya 81), Landon Donovan
"I was very pleased with the overall approach to the game. They kept the ball for long stretches. I was very pleased with the combination of Herculez (Gomez) and Landon [Donovan]. It was a great goal by Herculez. ... He continues to put himself in positions to score," Sampson said. "I thought our backline did a great job of defending. I felt for the first time in a long time that we didn't panic at all. We kept our composure and played intelligently. It was nice to have Landon back. There are a lot of people around him that worked very, very hard and deserve a lot of credit tonight."
Gomez has scored the last four goals consecutively in league play for the Galaxy. "I thought the final move to beat Reis was really critical and opened up the entire goal. The composure for him to put it in the back of the net, that's not always the easiest thing to do. We've seen a lot of people miss those," Sampson said. "Needless to say, I'm very proud of Herculez, but equally as proud of the way we built it up and created the opportunity for him."
The draw in New England began a six-game swing of 'away' matches, though in the mix is a match against Chivas USA at The Home Depot Center. Still, the Galaxy haven't yet won away from Carson this season - and in more than a year.
"We can build upon this. We're playing some very good teams. We came away with what I thought was a well-deserved point. We can build upon this and get the guys some much-needed rest," Sampson said.
On Wednesday, the Galaxy dumped stadium-mates Chivas USA out of the U.S. Open Cup with a 5-2 triumph at The Home Depot Center's Track & Field Stadium on Wednesday night. Douglas Sequeira gave Chivas a lead after just four minutes when he headed home a corner kick, but Cobi Jones pulled the Galaxy level eight minutes later when pumped a poor clearance home.
Then Chivas again took the lead when Ramon Ramirez curled home a free kick on 20 minutes, but Joseph Ngwenya finished off a semi-breakaway to again draw the Galaxy even (36).
Just before the break, Herculez Gomez again scored, picking off a pass before firing a long-range effort to give the Galaxy the lead. After squandering numerous chances throughout the second half, the Galaxy killed off the match with two late goals, Landon Donovan punishing a poor back pass (89) then Chris Albright finishing off the contest with a stoppage time strike.
"They (Chivas) want to play attacking football. But you have to understand when you play with three at the back and you leave those spaces open, it's going to cause problems," said Sampson. " ... I'm a little surprised that there were seven goals in this game. But again Joseph is coming back, Hercules is scoring every single game. I can't say enough about him and his ability to put the ball on target."
Here's Sampson's team: Steve Cronin; Ugo Ihemelu, Pablo Chinchilla, Troy Roberts, Todd Dunivant; Paulo Nagamura, Guillermo Ramirez, Herculez Gomez (46: Landon Donovan), Cobi Jones (74: Peter Vagenas), Jovan Kirovski (55: Chris Albright), Joseph Ngwenya (91: Alan Gordon).
That gives the Galaxy a quarterfinal date with the San Jose Earthquakes, Aug. 24 at Spartan Stadium. Three consecutive years, from 2000 to 2002, the Galaxy dumped their northern rivals out of the Open Cup with victories in the quarterfinals.
"We were embarrassed up there and the way they treated Landon was appalling (in the first league meeting this year)," Sampson said. "I think this team is very much looking forward to playing San Jose, even up there."