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Galaxy Negotiates Rapids, Buoys Its Hopes

Soccer: L.A. wins, 2-0, to move five points ahead of Clash in playoff race, but no one's celebrating.

September 11, 1997|GRAHAME L. JONES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Major League Soccer's playoffs start in four weeks. Against considerable odds, the Galaxy, once a 3-9 team, might--just might--be playing in them.

On a hot and somewhat bizarre night at the Rose Bowl, the Galaxy got an early goal from Chris Armas and a late one from Cobi Jones to defeat the Colorado Rapids, 2-0, in front of 7,842.

The victory improved the team's record to 12-16 and moved it five points clear of the San Jose Clash (11-17) in the race for the final playoff berth in the Western Conference. The fourth-place Galaxy is also only one victory behind the third-place Rapids (13-16) and has played one less game.

Still the race is far from over.

"It's definitely not done," defender Robin Fraser said. "There's four games left to go. There are other teams out there still playing. Nothing is in the bag, yet. We certainly aren't looking at it that way.

"You could tell by the end of our game. We weren't particularly celebrating. We know we've still got a lot of work to do."

One negative for the Galaxy was the red card picked up by defender Paul Caligiuri in the final minutes for wasting time when he deliberately kicked the ball away. It means he has to sit out the next game, against the second-place Burn (14-13) in Dallas on Sunday.

It was not surprising that referee Toru Kamikawa issued the card. A guest referee brought in from Japan's J-League, Kamikawa called the game very closely, sticking to the letter of the law.

In all, he showed an astonishing 11 yellow cards, Caligiuri and Colorado's Steve Trittschuh each getting two leading to ejection.

The Galaxy took the lead in the seventh minute, when Armas controlled a throw-in from Jones and immediately fired a 12-yard shot before defenders Marcelo Balboa and Sean Henderson could close in on him.

Colorado goalkeeper Paul Grafer--standing in for benched starter Marcus Hanhnemann--was slightly out of position and dived to his right, arms outstretched, but the ball was just out of reach and went in off the left post.

It was the only mistake Grafer made all night. For the next 79 minutes, he frustrated Los Angeles, often racing far out of his net to thwart Eduardo Hurtado and the other Galaxy forwards.

It was also the second-fastest goal in Galaxy history. Only a fourth-minute strike by Harut Karapetyan against the New York/New Jersey MetroStars at Giants Stadium on July 20 was quicker.

Having taken the lead, the Galaxy played the type of patient game necessary on an 86-degree evening. Defensively, all went well.

"The key is, when the four of us [defenders] are in sync that way, we don't give up a lot of opportunities," Fraser said. "Tonight we were very much in sync, we covered each other well. I don't think they really had very many dangerous opportunities."

The closest the Rapids came to scoring was three minutes after Armas' goal when Jamaican national team forward Wolde Harris hit a shot that rebounded back off the crossbar and was cleared.

The rest of the time, Jorge Campos was not really tested. The goalkeeper's only bad moment came when he and U.S. national team defender Balboa both went up for a corner kick and Balboa's right elbow caught Campos on the side of the head, knocking him momentarily silly.

With Los Angeles enjoying a one-man advantage after Trittschuh's expulsion in the 53rd minute for fouling Hurtado, the Galaxy did most of the second-half attacking.

It was finally rewarded in the 86th minute when a Danny Pena pass found Jones unmarked in front of the net.

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