COMMERCE CITY — In a game marred by seven ejections, the Atlanta Silverbacks defeated the Rapids 2-1 in front of a paltry but boisterous crowd of 1,654 at Dick's Sporting Goods Park Tuesday night.
The win by the lower-division NASL side eliminated the Rapids from the 2014 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, a single-elimination tournament the winner of which earns a berth in CONCACAF Champions League.
Despite a first half that saw a 55-minute delay due to rain, hail and lightning, it wasn't until the second half when things really got dicey.
Silverbacks forward Jaime Chavez was having the night of his life with a goal before the delay and another in the second half to stake Atlanta to a 2-0 lead. But, in the 61st minute, Chavez got tangled up with Rapids captain Drew Moor and appeared to stomp on his head while he was on the ground.
"I felt some cleats into the face, but didn't really see it," Moor said, who had red scrapes below his left ear and across his cheek.
Rapids defender Marc Burch was the teammate nearest to Moor at the time and rushed over to him.
"I saw him battling for the ball and Drew went down and he jumped up and stomped on him," Burch said. "My first reaction was to defend my captain and I grabbed (Chavez) by the shirt and I guess that's a red card these days."
Keeper Clint Irwin also rushed over and a full-scale fracas ensued, with both teams converging, pushing and shoving one another.
"I got hit twice by people just running by me swinging and I didn't do anything about it," Burch said, "I was a little confused why I got a red card."
When the dust settled, referee Juan Guzman issued seven ejections: four players and three coaches. Silverbacks Chavez, Kwadwo Poku and Borfor Carr were all given red cards, as was Rapids Burch. Silverbacks coach Eric Wynalda and his assistant Ricardo Montoya were also dismissed.
"It seemed a little undisciplined from them, because they're up 2-0 relatively comfortably," Moor said.
Finally, Rapids coach Pablo Mastroeni was sent to the locker room early as well, a decision he disagreed with.
"The referee told me I stepped on the field, and I was the only person to not step on the field," Mastroeni said. "That is rule No. 1 for me. (The ref) got that one wrong."
As Mastroeni left the field, a chorus of "Pablo! Pablo! Pablo!" rained down from the Rapids' supporters.
When he got to the hallway outside the locker rooms, a stunned Mastroeni spoke briefly with fellow ex-U.S. international Wynalda.
"We were just kind of looking at each other like, 'how are we both standing here?'" Mastroni said.
When play finally resumed, the Rapids had a two-man advantage, 10 players to eight. Dillon Serna earned a penalty kick in the 75th minute, which was converted by Dillon Powers.
The Rapids, who fielded a team laden with its regular starters, threw everything at the Silverbacks, save the kitchen sink, but somehow could not manage to find the equalizer. The Silverbacks packed all eight players inside their own 18-yard box, in an attempt to withstand the attack for nearly 30 minutes.
"This is a game that we lost tonight, it had nothing to do with Atlanta, it had nothing to do with the referee," Moor said. "We didn't come to play the way we should have tonight."
Mastroeni chalked up the loss to a pair of goals that came as a result of sloppy defending, and an inability to create and finish chances.
The Silverbacks took an early lead in the 22nd minute when midfielder Junior Burgos played a looping long ball from the left side into the penalty area where Atlanta forward Chavez converged with Moor and Irwin. Chavez got to it first, putting the perfect touch on it to flick it over Irwin and into the net.
Minutes before the scrum, a Silverbacks set piece was served in from the left sideline by Jesus Gonzalez and found Chavez streaking to the far post, catching Irwin off his line. Chavez headed it home, increasing Atlanta's lead to 2-0.
"We made two mistakes and they capitalized," Irwin said. "We just couldn't find the second goal to tie it up."
Mastroni was disappointed with the loss, but said the Rapids had no one to blame but themselves.
"Some of the things that happened today were bizarre," Mastroeni said. "But by no means are there any ill feelings toward anyone because we were in control of our own destiny. We chose to not take advantage of it."
Moor said he hopes the Rapids can take the loss and turn it into a positive.
"This needs to be a defining moment where we realize we're a much better team than we showed tonight," Moor said, "And we're a much more disciplined team and this is unacceptable tonight."