Los Angeles (AFP) – Colorado goalkeeper Tim Howard made two saves in a penalty shootout Sunday to advance the Rapids over the Los Angeles Galaxy in the Major League Soccer playoffs.
The Rapids won 3-1 on penalties after a 1-0 victory in the second leg of a two-match Western Conference semi-final series left the teams deadlocked 1-1 on aggregate.
Los Angeles won the opening leg 1-0 at home but lost the second leg 1-0 Sunday on a goal by Colorado’s Swiss midfielder Shkelzen Gashi in the 36th minute.
The triumph puts Colorado into the Western Conference two-leg final against either FC Dallas or the Seattle Sounders, who were set to meet later Sunday.
Seattle have a 3-0 edge after the first leg.
Sunday’s match may have been the final Galaxy appearance for England’s Steven Gerrard, who opened the scoring in the penalty showdown only to have Kevin Doyle equalize for Colorado.
Giovani dos Santos sent his kick over the crossbar to sting the Galaxy and Frenchman Sebastien Le Toux put Colorado ahead to stay with his attempt into the open left half of the net.
England’s Ashley Cole saw his first-ever competitive penalty kick knocked aside by Howard, who dived to his right to deny the Galaxy star.
Colorado’s Marco Pappa put the hosts on the brink with a left-footed shot into the bottom right corner.
Howard ended matters with another diving save to the right to deny the Galaxy’s Jeff Larentowicz.
In Eastern Conference action, two goals from Ignacio Piatti lifted the Montreal Impact to their first conference finals berth with a 2-1 win over the New York Red Bulls that gave the Impact a 3-1 aggregate triumph.
It was another early playoff exit for the Red Bulls, who had entertained high hopes after finishing atop the Eastern Conference for the second straight regular season.
Montreal opened the scoring on Piatti’s blast in the 51st minute.
Needing three goals at that point to advance the Red Bulls pulled one back on a deflected goal from Golden Boot winner Bradley Wright-Phillips in the 77th.
But the Impact punched their ticket in the 85th, when Piatti completed his brace on a pass from Didier Drogba, who was making his first appearance since September 28.
The Impact next face either Toronto or New York City FC. Toronto triumphed 2-0 at home in the opening leg, with City hosting the return later Sunday.