COMMERCE CITY — Colorado Rapids head coach Pablo Mastroeni said he wasn’t nervous when his team’s season was on the line.
After 210-plus minutes of soccer between the Rapids and Los Angeles Galaxy in two Western Conference Semifinals games, the aggregate score was 1-1. Penalty kicks would decide who moved on. A maximum of five kicks apiece were all that was left to determine whether one of the best seasons in Rapids history would end prematurely or continue.
Mastroeni remained cool throughout for a simple reason: “Going into the P.K.s, I was in a place of comfort knowing we had Tim Howard in goal.”
Howard came up huge, saving two of the four shots he faced as the Colorado Rapids won 3-1 on penalties to advance to the Western Conference Finals.
The Rapids got some help when midfielder Giovani Dos Santos sailed the Galaxy’s second penalty kick over the bar. Then Howard came up with two fantastic diving saves — the first against Ashley Cole, and the second coming against Jeff Larentowicz.
These were the moments Colorado brought Howard, the greatest goalkeeper in United States history, here for; the reason why they gave him a 3 1/2-year deal worth $8 million.
“Like I said, I’ve done it before,” Howard said. “It’s good to get on top of the shooters because the advantage is with them. And you ride that wave.”
Colorado, which fell to the L.A. Galaxy 1-0 in the first leg of the playoff last weekend, had to take at least a one-goal advantage into extra time to have a chance to stay alive. It turned out all the Rapids needed was Shkëlzen Gashi’s screamer from roughly 40 yards out in the 36th minute.
The ball boinked off the left post and in. The Rapids, who outshot the Galaxy 15-6 and held possession 55 percent of the time, held the upper hand throughout the game but were unable to tack on the necessary goal to win in regulation or overtime.
They got it done in penalty kicks, though.
Colorado will next face whoever wins the Western Conference Semis leg between the Seattle Sounders and FC Dallas. The teams play at 7 p.m. Sunday, and the Sounders lead in aggregate 3-0.
Whoever it is, the Rapids have a strong chance to beat them and advance to the MLS Cup. They have Howard, who at 37, clearly still has a lot left in the tank. They have one of the better backlines in the MLS in front of him. And more than anything, Mastroeni said, the Rapids believe.
“What I’m most proud of is being part of a group that nobody believes in, and still nobody believes in,” Mastreoni said. “The power of team was on display today. There’s not a lot of playoff experience in that group. But what you have is a belief more so than almost any team I’ve ever been a part of. If you can bottle that up and sell it, that’s the secret.”