Between the chaos and emotion, and the hail and lightning, the eight man Atlanta Silverbacks defended their lead and won the Fifth Round matchup verses the Colorado Rapids by a score of 2-1.
The scoring began in the 21st minute when Atlanta midfielder Junior Burgos lobbed a ball towards forward Jaime Chavez who’s half bicycle kick chipped Colorado goalkeeper Clint Irwin and gave the visitors the one goal lead. For the second week in a row Colorado had conceded the first goal to the visiting side and intensified their attack.
Just as the game was opening up for both sides the Colorado weather took a dangerous turn. In the 28th minute lightning and hail suspended the game for over forty minutes giving each team a much needed huddle in their respective locker rooms. After the game both coaches admitted that the unexpected break was helpful resetting their game plans and focusing their player on the task at hand. For the Rapids, head coach Pablo Mastroeni focused his players on the attack while the Silverbacks caught their breath and prepared to protect their lead for the remaining sixty minutes of the game.
The game continued into the second half with back and forth attacking that kept both teams on edge. The midfield battle saw numerous chances on net for virtually every attacker on the Colorado Rapids. After waves of shots by the Rapids the Silverbacks gained a free kick roughly forty yards from the Colorado net. Substitute Jesus Gonzalez’s quick free kick was a lofty pass that sailed past the Colorado goal where it was met by a leaping Jamie Chavez who headed his second goal, stunning the home crowd. Irwin had come off his line to defend the ball, but was unable to get to it, leaving himself in no-man’s land and the net wide open.
What was once a heated yet free flowing affair turned ugly in a matter of moments when Atlanta goalscorer Jamie Chavez pulled down Colorado centerback Drew Moor in a fight for a loose ball near the centerline. As the Colorado defender fell to the ground Sanchez spikes landed directly on Moor’s head and neck causing an uproar from the crowd. The nearest player on the field, Colorado goalkeeper Clint Irwin, rushed to the scene and a melee was eminent.
The heated argument turned to pushing and shoving and soon both benches cleared. In a matter of seconds three Atlanta players were ejected; Chavez, midfield boss Kwadwo Poku and winger Borfor Carr as well as Colorado left back Marc Burch. The melee continued and soon Atlanta Silverbacks technical director Eric Wynalda, assistant coach Ricardo Montoya as well as Colorado Rapids’ head coach Pablo Mastroeni were ejected for allegedly leaving the coaching box.
When the dust settled, Atlanta was left with eight players on the field, missing their goal scorer Chavez, main playmakers Poku and Carr and without their first and second in charge coaches. The near empty Atlanta bench was left in the hands of Nick Webster, a friend of Wynalda, and current coach of Cal FC, who was invited to take an honorary role on the Atlanta bench earlier that day.
Webster rose to the occasion calling for his players to stay compact and believe that they could see the two goal advantage out for the last twenty minutes regardless of being out numbered ten to eight.
At this point, Colorado was practically given possession for the remaining twenty-six minutes and the additional seven minutes of added time. The constant waves of attacks led by midfielder Nick LaBrocca, reigning TheCup.us Player of the Round Deshorn Brown and Dillon Powers came closer and closer with every minute but could not break down the back line led by Atlanta defender Michael Randolph, midfielder Blair Gavin and goalkeeper Derby Carrillo.
After the game when asked about the ejections Wynalda responded saying “Tommy Lasorda told me something a long time ago; its okay to get thrown out, it can inspire the group.” Later he added that “(His team) spends a lot of time without me anyways so they are kind of used to it”. Inspired and independent the Atlanta defense was, enduring the endless Colorado attack.
Just when frustration among the Colorado attack was becoming apparent, winger Dillion Serna drew a penalty kick. The goal was converted by Dillon Powers and the Rapids were quickly back to the attack looking for the equalizer.
Regardless of the seven minutes added and the five shots on net after the penalty was converted, Colorado could not find the equalizer and Atlanta had pulled off the upset.
After the game, Atlanta Silverbacks technical director Eric Wynalda was elated at the performance that his eight man team delivered adding “these guys; if the the rest of the world wants to give them credit is not for me to decide, but tonight they won the game … Sometimes in this sport its not about tactics, the x’s and o’s, its about being a man and playing the game you are in”
Rapids head coach Pablo Mastroeni was quick to downplay the melee stating that “the referee played no part in this result, all credit to a hard working Atlanta team.” Clearly frustrated and amazed that his team could not find the equalizer Mastroeni summed up the game stating that his team’s “inability to defend two simple plays and not being able to put away the chances you get” were the Rapids downfall “its not about the refs, not about the ejections, not about the chaos.”
For the Rapids the disappointment is heavy but they can now turn their focus to league play which resumes this weekend with a home game against the Vancouver Whitecaps. This loss ends their all-time undefeated streak in Colorado (4-1-0), and marks the 15th year in a row they were unable to win consecutive games in the Open Cup. Atlanta, on the other hand, have won three tournament games in one year for the first time and will advance to the Quarterfinals for the first time since MLS joined the tournament in 1996.
Atlanta will host the Chicago Fire of MLS who defeated the Columbus Crew 4-2 in extra time. The Silverbacks will face the four-time Open Cup champions without a large portion of their starting lineup and coaching staff. Assistant coach Ricardo Montoya did confirm that Atlanta will protest the red cards and hope to have at least midfielder Kwadwo Poku back in action for the Quarterfinals.
UPDATE: A story in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution published on June 26, the Silverbacks learned that they are unable to appeal the red cards they received.