DENVER — Eleven Colorado Rapid players stood between the Galaxy and a Major League Soccer playoff victory Friday night, but only one of them really mattered.
Goalkeeper Joe Cannon pulled off a series of outstanding saves, two of them of world class, and the Rapids held on for a 1-0 victory in the first match of a two-game Western Conference semifinal series.
Cannon, a favorite to win the league's goalkeeper of the year award and a serious candidate for MLS player of the year, was every bit as accomplished as U.S. national team goalkeepers Kasey Keller, Brad Friedel and Tim Howard.
"The way he's playing right now, you have to put him there," Colorado Coach Tim Hankinson said. "He's not just making the normal stops, he's playing in a zone, he's playing in a different world. He's outstanding."
Cannon came from nowhere to deny Galaxy defender Dan Califf on a point-blank header in the third minute, tipping the ball over the crossbar.
"I felt for sure it was a goal," Califf said. "I didn't even see him save it. Cannon's been coming up with saves like that all year. He's had an incredible year."
One hour later, Cannon threw himself full-length to his right to push a superb flying header by Jovan Kirovski around the post.
"That was an unbelievable save," Kirovski said. "He kept them in the game all night."
A one-goal lead, courtesy of a 31st-minute goal by Jean Philippe Peguero, gives Colorado the slimmest of advantages going into the second game next Saturday night at the Home Depot Center.
Hankinson had hoped for more but remained optimistic after his team's first playoff victory over the Galaxy in five attempts.
"I had on the board all week 3-0, knowing I'm not going to get that, I'm going to get less than that, but we have to set the standard high," he said.
"Right now they need two goals. We've been a good team defensively. Joe's been outstanding. I know they're going to throw a lot at us, particularly early in the game. When you have to commit and risk, there are cracks, doors open, and opportunities will come our way to get what we need out of the game.
"So I think it's a good position to be sitting in."
The Galaxy, meanwhile, sounded equally positive about its prospects.
"I thought Joe Cannon was the difference," Coach Steve Sampson said. "He made phenomenal saves. I've seen our best goalkeepers in this country and I've seen the best in the world, and [Friday] he played as well as they do."
That said, Sampson said he believed the Galaxy could prevail in the total-goals series.
"A 1-0 result against is not insurmountable to us at home," he said.
Said Califf: "We've just got to win, that's the bottom line. And I think that we can win, and I think we can win by more than one goal and finish it off in regulation."
On the other hand, the way the Galaxy has struggled to score of late -- only seven goals in nine games -- a 0-0 tie would be enough for Colorado to advance to the conference final against the winner of the Kansas City-San Jose series.
The Galaxy already had lost three players even before Friday's match began, forcing Sampson to juggle his lineup.
While training in the rain on the Home Depot Center's artificial turf field on Wednesday, defender Ryan Suarez sprained his left ankle and midfield playmaker Andreas Herzog suffered a groin injury. Neither player traveled to Colorado.
And, with less than half an hour to go before kickoff, winger Arturo Torres, who was in the starting lineup in place of the injured Cobi Jones, was forced out by blurred vision after being hit in the head by a ball during warm-ups. Joseph Ngwenya stepped in for Torres, and Jones came on as a substitute in the 57th minute.
Colorado grabbed the only goal when Peguero slammed home a shot from about 10 yards after a corner kick.
* Game 1: Colorado 1, Galaxy 0
* Game 2: Oct. 30 at Home Depot Center, 7 p.m., Fox Sports World
Series winner is the team with the most goals in the two games, and will play the winner of the Kansas City-San Jose series in the Western Conference finals. Should the teams be tied at the conclusion of the second game, a 30-minute overtime, followed by a penalty-kick shootout, if necessary, would determine which team would advance.