In the battle for the top spot in Major League Soccer's Western Conference, the Kansas City Wizards guaranteed a place in the MLS Cup Playoffs by virtue of a 1-0 victory against the visiting Colorado Rapids on Saturday night at Arrowhead Stadium.
The only goal came on a clinical strike from midweek hero Igor Simutenkov -- 49 seconds after he came on as a substitute -- and combined with the Dallas Burn's home loss to the MetroStars clinched a postseason place for the home side.
The Wizards took only 30 seconds to show their intentions as seldom used midfielder Diego Walsh cut around the left corner and fired point blank at Colorado 'keeper Joe Cannon, who deftly raised his right fist to stymie Walsh at the near post.
Aggressively attacking Antonio de la Torre on the right side of the Rapids defense through the skilled Walsh, Kansas City again came close in the 36th minute when they again forced Cannon to save at the near post as Jose Burciaga Jr. nailed a right-footed shot that the Rapids keeper parried high away from his net.
As the Wizards number of chances mounted, so did their urgency. In extra-time midfielder Jack Jewsbury ran onto a left-sided cross from Burciaga but found only the side netting, and the Wizards headed into the dressing room the more frustrated of the two teams.
The second half saw the Wizards come out firing. And despite Walsh continuing to play a big part, Wizards coach Bob Gansler pulled him out in favor of Simutenkov in the 54th minute, the hero of Kansas City's victory in the U.S. Open Cup Final on Wednesday.
Gansler turned prophet as Simutenkov struck home only 49 seconds later. He dribbled at the Rapids box and passed slightly behind the diagonal running Josh Wolff. Wolff reversed his momentum and returned a pass that found Simutenkov on the move with time to spare in the box.
The former Russian international hit a well-paced stroke into the bottom left corner for his first league goal of the season and eased the Wizards offensive frustration.
The always-feisty John Spencer would not let the Wizards become too proud, though, as he sent Bo Oshoniyi sprawling fully spread to his left to palm away a close-range shot in the 57th minute.
Colorado kept trying to inch back into the still physical match but found the Kansas City defense mostly unforgiving. In the 76th minute, the Rapids threatened through a corner, but Oshoniyi rose high to snatch the header, then Mark Chung dialed long-distance from outside the box in the 88th minute but the rising left footed blast cleared the crossbar and streamed safely into the crowd.
Chung's attempt proved to be the final real chance created as the Wizards held on for fourth 1-0 victory in their last five matches in all competitions.
The Wizards hit the road next weekend, heading to The Home Depot Center for a contest against the Los Angeles Galaxy (10 p.m. ET), while the Rapids return home for a match against the San Jose Earthquakes (9 p.m. ET) that will have huge playoff implications for both clubs.
MLSnet.com Man of the Match: Diego Walsh (Kansas City Wizards)
Colorado Rapids (10-9-9) vs. Kansas City Wizards (13-9-5)
September 25, 2004 -- Arrowhead Stadium
KC -- Igor Simutenkov 1 (Josh Wolff 7) 55
Colorado Rapids -- Joe Cannon, Antonio de la Torre (Kyle Beckerman 56), Nat Borchers, Ritchie Kotschau, Ricky Lewis (Seth Trembly 73), Chris Henderson, Matt Crawford, Pablo Mastroeni, Mark Chung, Jordan Cila (Alberto Delgado 61), John Spencer.
Substitutes Not Used: Rey Angel Martinez, Scott Vallow.
TOTAL SHOTS: 12 (Mark Chung 3, John Spencer 3); SHOTS ON GOAL: 5 (John Spencer 2); FOULS: 18 (Ritchie Kotschau 3); OFFSIDES: 2 (Chris Henderson 1, John Spencer 1); CORNER KICKS: 4 (Antonio de la Torre 2); SAVES: 7 (Joe Cannon 7)
Kansas City Wizards -- Bo Oshoniyi, Alex Zotinca, Jimmy Conrad, Nick Garcia, Jose Burciaga Jr., Jack Jewsbury, Diego Gutierrez, Kerry Zavagnin, Diego Walsh (Igor Simutenkov 54) (Taylor Graham 84), Josh Wolff, Davy Arnaud.
Substitutes Not Used: Justin Detter, Will Hesmer, Tony Meola, Brian Roberts, Khari Stephenson, Matt Taylor, Shavar Thomas.
TOTAL SHOTS: 14 (Diego Walsh 3, Josh Wolff 3); SHOTS ON GOAL: 8 (Diego Walsh 3); FOULS: 18 (Davy Arnaud 4, Josh Wolff 4); OFFSIDES: 1 (Josh Wolff 1); CORNER KICKS: 0; SAVES: 5 (Bo Oshoniyi 5)
COL -- Antonio de la Torre (caution; Pushing, Holding) 19
COL -- Matt Crawford (caution; Pushing, Holding) 69
KC -- Bo Oshoniyi (caution; Delaying a Restart) 88
Referee: Abiodun Okulaja
Referee's Assistants: Kermit Quisenberry; Fabio Tovar
4th Official: Erich Simmons
Time of Game: 1:49
All Statistics contained in this boxscore are unofficial.