On Sunday afternoon, the Colorado Rapids booked their passage into the Western Conference Final for the first time since winning MLS Cup in 2010. The Rapids entered the second leg of their Western Conference Semifinal with the LA Galaxy trailing 1-0 on aggregate, but a strike from Shkelzan Gashi was enough to send the game into extra time. Neither side could break the deadlock in the extra period, sending the match to penalties, where Tim Howard played the hero by saving twice to win the tie for Colorado.
Colorado on the front foot early
The Rapids entered the match knowing something special would be needed after the Galaxy earned a 1-0 victory in last weekend's first leg. However, unlike the first leg, LA found themselves without Emmanuel Boateng, and his absence proved important.
With the knowledge that they must press the issue, Colorado began the game in the ascendency, and it took them less than a minute to test Brian Rowe's goal. A Gashi corner was whipped in and half cleared to Sebastian Le Toux on the edge of the box, who unleashed a powerful volley right into the arms of Rowe.
Gashi opens the scoring
In spite of that early attacking intent, it took something special to put the Rapids on the board. Gashi was the man to deliver that moment of magic with a stunning strike. He picked the ball up in space 45 yards out from goal before uncorking a dipping, swerving strike which went in off the post in the 36th minute.
Colorado didn't stop there, and seven minutes later Dominique Badji nearly doubled their lead on the day. Sloppy play from LA gifted the hosts possession in the attacking third, and Le Toux picked out Badji with a terrific pass. He turned, and had a strike back across his body which Rowe happily watched roll just wide.
All Colorado in the second period
It was still all Colorado in the second half, and they again went close to scoring in the 63rd minute when Marlon Hairston scampered forward. The substitute beat several players off the dribble before having a speculative effort on goal which landed just wide of Rowe's near post. The assault continued, and nine minutes later Badji had the chance of the match to put the Rapids ahead. After being slipped in by Jones, he found himself in 1v1 with Rowe, but could only slice his shot wide.
Neither side went as close to scoring again, and both the 90-minute and 120-minute marks passed with Colorado leading 1-0 on the day.
In the shootout, LA drew the coveted position of shooting first, and Steven Gerrard stepped up for the Galaxy. With potentially his last kick in a Galaxy shirt, the former Liverpool man beat Tim Howard to the keeper's left to give his side a slender advantage. Seconds later, Kevin Doyle leveled things up with a strike that somehow snuck underneath Rowe. The striker looked visibly relieved, knowing he was lucky the keeper had failed to keep it out. That moment seemed to turn the tide of the shootout, and give Colorado the advantage.
If that wasn't the moment that did it, then Giovani Dos Santos' penalty did. The Mexican scooped his shot over the bar to the delight of the Rapids ultras behind the goal. He may have felt the pressure, but Le Toux did not when he calmly beat Rowe to his right with a brilliant penalty.
Sensing a wave building amongst the Rapids, Howard proceeded to produce his moment of the match to keep out Ashley Cole. The Englishman had looked to place a penalty inside the keeper's right hand post, but Howard was not fooled and got down to make a terrific stop. Marco Pappa responded by sending Rowe the wrong way to extend Colorado's advantage to 3-1. That left LA's season on the right foot of Jeff Larentowicz.
He attempted to roll the ball inside Howard's right hand post, but like Cole, found that the American would not be beaten.
What next for Colorado
The Rapids will now have to wait for the winner of FC Dallas and the Seattle Sounders, which will be determined later this evening. However, for the moment, they will just revel in knocking off the Galaxy.