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Setting High Goals, Galaxy Earns Sweep

MLS playoffs: Pena's arcing shot helps carry L.A. to 2-0 victory over Colorado--and into conference finals.


DENVER — Danny Pena and Ian Feuer each had only seconds to make up their minds.

In the 74th minute of a scoreless Major League Soccer playoff game at Mile High Stadium on Sunday, the Galaxy midfielder and the Colorado Rapid goalkeeper suddenly found themselves one on one.

Now freeze the clock a moment.

Feuer, a 6-foot-6 stringbean from Las Vegas, flashed back to last Sunday, when he dived low too late and was beaten by a grass-burning shot from Ezra Hendrickson in what turned out to be a 3-0 Galaxy victory in Game 1 of the best-of-three series.

Pena, a defensive midfielder from Culver City, doesn't often find himself with such clear-cut goal-scoring chances and had to decide almost instantly: shoot low or chip?

Now start the clock again.

Feuer guessed low and dropped down. Pena decided high and chipped. The ball made a graceful arc over the stranded keeper and sank into the back of the Colorado net.

Ten minutes later, Joe Franchino put it there again, for his first MLS goal, and the Rapids were beaten, 2-0, as the Galaxy advanced to the Western Conference finals with a two-game sweep.

Next up is the winner of Wednesday night's Dallas Burn-Chicago Fire game at the Cotton Bowl. Game 1 is 2:30 p.m. Sunday at the Rose Bowl.

Not surprisingly, it was Mauricio Cienfuegos' pass that set up Pena. The Salvadoran midfielder has produced the winning goal in back-to-back playoff games, each time with soccer's equivalent of the no-look pass.

Yet he shrugged off compliments and merely said: "It is my job. I am happy for the whole team."

Pena was more vocal.

" I saw Cienfuegos cutting up the middle," he said. "I played a ball to him first time. I saw the defense collapse on the left side there. I saw the hole and I saw Cien, and I knew he knew I was making that run. I never said a word to him. He played a beautiful ball there. The ball was bouncing, which made it a little bit easier for me to get over the keeper, who's 6-6. Fortunately, I was able to get a nice touch on it and finish it."

Finishing is not something the Galaxy had done well at Mile High this season. The team had lost two 1-0 decisions in the regular season and Pena's goal ended a 254-minute L.A. scoreless streak in Denver.

Colorado's agony will carry over into the off-season. After being shut out for the second time by Galaxy goalkeeper Kevin Hartman, the Rapids' scoring drought reached an astonishing 679 minutes.

To their credit, the Rapids attacked throughout the game, but their efforts foundered as Hartman and the Galaxy back four held firm. A shootout loomed when Pena finally broke through.

"Maybe he [Feuer] could have stayed on his feet a little bit longer," Pena said. "But like I said, it's a split-second decision by the goalkeeper, as well as by myself, and I got the lucky end of it."

The second goal, in the 84th minute, came when Zak Ibsen got around the back of the Colorado defense on the left and crossed the ball sharply across the face of the goal. The luckless Feuer got his hands to it but succeeded only in deflecting it into Franchino's path.

The former Cal State Fullerton player drove it over the fallen keeper and into the net to the dismay of the crowd of 6,542.

Philip Anschutz, who was in attendance, owns both teams and was a winner either way. Which is how Galaxy Coach Sigi Schmid described Pena.

"That was a great goal," Schmid said. "He definitely had his game face on the moment he got off the bus. You can never take this away from Danny Pena: He will give you everything he has until the last breath that he takes on the field. He wants to win at all costs. "

There was one footnote to the victory. Striker Carlos Hermosillo's contract with MLS expires next Sunday, after which he is due to report back to Necaxa, his team in the Mexican league.

Sergio Del Prado, the Galaxy's general manager, said he thought Mexico's all-time active leading goal scorer could be persuaded to stick around through the Nov. 21 MLS championship at Foxboro, Mass.

As usual, it will come down to dollars.

"It's a situation that should be easy to work out," Del Prado said. "We just have to extend it [Hermosillo's contract] for one more month. The main difference is that it's two different salaries. He's making one amount with Necaxa and another [lesser] amount with MLS. I don't think he's going to want to lose [any money]. But I know he wants to stay through to the championship."

Which, of course, is assuming that the Fire or the Burn can be as easily disposed of as the Rapids were.

"Our spirit is great right now and we're excited," Franchino said. "We need three more wins, and that's what we're focusing on."



Galaxy 3, Rapids 0


Galaxy 2, Rapids 0

Galaxy wins series, 2-0



Winner of Dallas vs. Chicago

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