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RAPIDS DROWN CHIVAS DEFENSIVE TROUBLES PROVE VERY COSTLY COLORADO 3, CHIVAS USA 1.

Byline: Jill Painter Staff Writer

CARSON - Chivas USA goalkeeper Brad Guzan lay on his stomach with his face firmly implanted in the Home Depot Center turf Saturday after Colorado's Jeff Cunningham scored a goal, beating him to the right side of the net. Guzan stayed there motionless for several seconds before getting back onto his feet.

Had he known what would transpire, he probably would've stayed down. That way, he wouldn't have seen Cunningham notch his first career hat trick - at any level - and Colorado beat Chivas 3-1 in front of an announced crowd of 10,114.

Chivas lost its 10th game of the season, but this defeat seemed to sting a little more than the previous nine, or at least it should have. Coming into Saturday night's match, Colorado had the third-worse record in MLS, ahead of only Real Salt Lake and Chivas, the expansion clubs.

Chivas fell to 1-10-3 in large part because of horrific defensive play. Colorado was brilliant on its counterattacks, and Cunningham became league's top scorer, with eight goals. He has four in the past four days, including the winner Wednesday against the Galaxy.

Cunningham's second and third goals were the result of inexcusable miscues by Chivas defenders.

``When you play a team like Colorado, and you don't pressure in the middle, or you lose the ball in the midfield, there's so much space,'' Chivas coach Hans Westerhof said. ``It's almost suicide.''

Chivas didn't put up much of a fight offensively, although it twice hit the woodwork. Some of the struggles were product pf so much time spent scrambling on defense.

Chivas got its goal in the 83rd minute on a Thiago Martins penalty kick, but the game was over long before then.

Colorado (4-8-2) struck in the 30th minute, when Cunningham took advantage of space near the top of the box - opened by a teammate's run - and blasted a shot past the outstretched hands of Guzan.

Cunningham again was open in the 62nd minute, taking a pass from Jean Philippe Peguero in front of the net. Guzan came out to cut the angle, but Cunningham made it 2-0.

Cunningham's third goal was embarrassing, from a defensive standpoint. He took a throw-in from Dan Gargan and raced toward Chivas' goal with defenders trailing him, scoring on a 78th-minute breakaway.

Guzan made his second start since winning the job back from Martin Zuniga. He halted Cunningham's 67th-minute penalty kick.

``We can't be pointing fingers,'' said Guzan, who struggled early in the year. ``We go on (the field) as 11 and come off as 11. Obviously, we had a couple of mistakes. They exploited us, and we paid the price.''

Chivas caught a break in the 36th minute when defender Ricky Lewis almost scored an own goal. He headed the ball to clear it but it hit the left post.

``They're very good (defenders) individually, but as a unit, I don't think they communicate well,'' Cunningham said. ``Definitely with more games and the new coaching staff, they'll get organized.''

Chivas fans can only hope that happens before the season's over. Otherwise, the inaugural season may end with one victory.

Jill Painter, (818) 713-3615

jill.painter(at)dailynews.com

CAPTION(S):

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Photo:

Colorado's Jean Philippe Peguero collects the ball in front of Chivas USA's Armando Begines.

Edna T. Simpson/Daily News
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jun 19, 2005
Words:554
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