It took 120 minutes and a penalty shootout to find a winner, but the Colorado Rapids will move on past the LA Galaxy in the Audi 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs thanks to a Shkelzen Gashi golazo and two big saves in the shootout from Tim Howard.
The goal that brought the series level on aggregate came in the 36th minute with a long-range effort effort from Gashi. He received the ball 40 yards out from the Galaxy goal, took a touch forward and launched an effort that bent away from Brian Rowe, wrong-footing the LA ‘keeper and kissing the post on its way in. The goal brought the aggregate score in the series to 1-1, where it would stay for the remainder of the game.
Neither team was able to seriously test the opposing goalkeeper after Gashi’s goal until Dominique Badji forced a save out of Brian Rowe with his header in the 14th minute of extra time, the best remaining chance for both teams before the game headed to penalties.
The Galaxy started the shootout strong thanks to Steven Gerrard's effort, but would proceed to see Giovani dos Santos sky his shot and Ashley Cole have his strike saved by Howard, while Colorado made all of their first three spot kicks. That set up a do-or-die kick for LA's Jeff Larentowicz, but Howard got low to his right to deny the veteran midfielder's effort and send Colorado through.
- ROLLING THE DICE: The intrigue here started pregame, with both coaches making notable changes to their lineups. Colorado's Pablo Mastroeni opted to bring in veteran midfielder Jermaine Jones to partner Sam Cronin in central midfield in place of Micheal Azira while keeping Kevin Doyle in his fairly new No. 10 role just behind lone striker Dominique Badji. It was an XI that had never played together, but it was enough to see Colorado onto the next round. On the Galaxy side, Bruce Arena was forced to insert Mike Magee at left wing for Emmanuel Boateng, who picked up a hamstring injury in practice this week. Furthermore, LA's star DPs, Steven Gerrard and Robbie Keane continued to start on the bench, with Arena opting to stick with the healthy players that had gotten LA this far. And though the Galaxy came into the match needing to defend, rather than add to their lead, it was not a good sign that they managed just one shot on goal across the 120 minutes – a tame effort from Keane, who entered the game as a 61st-minute substitute.
- OH MY GASHI: It proved to be a game of highs and lows for Shkelzen Gashi, whose outstanding goal gave Colorado the lifeline they needed to push the series extra time. The only problem for Gashi was that he would not see the field in that extra time period, let alone the second half after he had to go off at halftime following a collision with Ashley Cole. He was seen returning to the Rapids bench on crutches, but Rapids fans can can reasonably hope to see him back in two weeks' time for the Conference Championship:
- WHAT NOW FOR LA?: The Colorado Rapids' fairytale season will continue, but the Galaxy will face some big questions heading into the 2017 season. This is the first time in the Bruce Arena era that the Galaxy have missed the Conference Championship stage in two straight seasons and the questions will start with the legendewary head coach, who will shortly be out of contract. Gerrard and Keane are also out of contract this offseason, meaning a major shake-up in terms of the Galaxy's big-name DPs could be on the cards, especially when considering that neither Keane nor Gerrard were able to start any of LA's three playoff games.
- COL: Western Conference Championship first leg vs. Seattle (Tuesday 11/22; FS1, TSN, MLS LIVE)