This match report was submitted to us by reader Patrick Shea.
"It's all on us." - Colorado head coach Pablo Mastroeni.
Atlanta Silverbacks attacker Jaime Chavez struck the net twice and Drew Moor once to advance to the Sweet 16 of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup with a 2-1 victory over the Colorado Rapids. But the battle at Dick's Sporting Goods Park on Tuesday night did not strike anyone as "sweet." Four players and three coaches received red cards and had to march to the locker rooms. With 1,654 fans in the stands, this significantly reduced the total body count in the stadium.
"Strikes or attempts to strike..." is a no-no straight from the FIFA laws, a double-disruption to the game from the lightning and some players. Chavez collected a cross over Moor's head in the 22nd minute and managed to get a touch on the ball past an advancing Clint Irwin for the 1-0 lead. Strike one.
With the game scoreless at 28:28 and visible bolts around the stadium, center ref Juan Guzman finally heard the announcement echoing throughout the 24-field complex and decided to pause the game. After almost an hour delay, players returned for another 20-minute stint without strikes from the sky, Chavez, or anyone else on the field.
Although the Rapids had the ball for most of the first half, legitimate scoring chances fell equally to both teams (eight shots for Colorado, six for Atlanta). A couple minutes before the opening goal, Chavez received a similar cross from the left wing, but Shane O'Neill won the ball on that play. For the Rapids, Deshorn Brown hit a shot straight at goalkeeper Derby Carrillo in the third minute, and Dillon Serna hit the crossbar off a Vicente Sanchez drop pass in the box, followed by a deflected shot from Dillon Powers.
After the break, Colorado pressed the game forward and looked likely to equalize. But a Thomas Piermayr foul on the right wing 45 yards from the goal turned an innocuous chance into a two-goal hole.
Substitute Jesus Gonzalez sent the free kick to the far post, and Irwin read it short. Chavez watched the ball fly over Irwin's fingertips and slipped a header past the post. Strike two.
Four minutes later, Guzman once again was slow to witness events in his presence. Guzman's whistle sometimes sounded uncertain. Short, quiet toots sounded like he wanted to take them back, like he didn't mean it. So when Chavez was offside and the linesman raised his flag, Guzman's faint whistle didn't stop Chavez and Moor from their sprint for the ball together. The players went down in a tangle, and Chavez cleaned his boot with Moor's face. Strike three.
Instead of rushing to the scene, Guzman wandered the other way. So of course other players rushed the scene. Eric Wynalda rushed the field too, followed by assistant coach Ricardo Montoya attempting to restrain him. Pablo Mastroeni was vocal during the melee, but he didn't enter the field of play.
Ultimately, Atlanta lost three players and two coaches (Chavez, Wynalda, Montoya, Kwadwo Poku, and Borfor Carr). Colorado lost Marc Burch and Mastroeni.
For the final half hour, the Silverbacks alternated between a 5-2 and a 4-2-1 formation, and the Rapids brought on Kamani Hill and Edson Buddle to push for a goal. Predictably, Carrillo finished each save face-down on the field. He parried the ball from ball boys. He seemed to tear his ACL and MCL after a particular Colorado shot, but he recovered enough to take the goal kick himself. Sand dropped nonstop through the hourglass.
The Silverbacks brought on Deon McCaulay to collect the ball and head to the corner flag with it. McCaulay scored 11 goals in World Cup qualifying for Belize, tying Robin Van Persie and Luis Suarez for most in the world. But he didn't even reach the penalty box on Tuesday night.
In the 75th minute, Dillon Serna ran onto a ball in the box, and Carrillo clipped his foot. Dillon Powers rammed home the penalty kick, and Rapids continued to bear down on the eight-man obstruction. Guzman added seven minutes of extra time, but it was not enough for Colorado to equalize.
"The referee played no part in this result," Mastroeni said after the game. "And credit Atlanta. But it was our inability to defend what for me are two simple plays, two brain-dead plays. And then not to be able to finish the chances we create. It's not about the refs, the ejections, or the chaos. It's all on us."
When asked if his ejection inspired his Silverbacks, Wynalda deadpanned, "They spend a lot of time without me anyway." Wynalda commutes from California for games, but his assistants train the squad.
Pointing to assistant Montoya, Wynalda continued, "Ricardo helps me find the Atlanta talent, and these kids haven't been given a chance. I get guys from L.A. When they mesh together, you have to manage them. Ricardo will say, ‘we have something special with these two guys.'"
Players on the Silverbacks' roster come from Liberia, Ghana, Honduras, Argentina, Belize, Sierra Leone, Colombia, and Togo with the balance from southern California and the Atlanta area.
"We learned this lesson last year," Wynalda said. "We had talent and good players. But their egos got in the way. The guys we have now will sacrifice for each other."
Atlanta will host the Chicago Fire in the next round of the tournament.