Los Angeles Galaxy 2 : 1 Vancouver Whitecaps
By Cory Ritzau
It almost worked. In fact it did work for 65 minutes.
Unfortunately for Vancouver games last longer than an hour and the defending champion Galaxy exhibited their mettle scoring two goals in four minutes earn victory in the Western Conference Knockout Round by a score of 2-1.
Capitalizing on a nice counter attack by Matt Watson, the visitors went ahead early with a third minute goal by Darren Mattocks as the Whitecaps were content to drop back into a defensive shell with a 1-0 lead getting numbers behind the ball.
And for some time it looked like a winning formula as the Galaxy look bereft of ideas on how to break through the staunch Vancouver defense. But a clinical Mike Magee goal and a Landon Donovan penalty kick brought the home side back in front after being just 20 minutes from playoff elimination.
“It’s the kind of game we expected,” said Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena, “We knew we would have a lot of the ball and that Vancouver was going to get numbers behind the ball and make it difficult. We really put ourselves in a difficult position tonight by conceding a goal in the opening minutes of the game tonight.
We showed a lot of character to scrap and fight and get back into the game and then ultimately win, so it’s a great result for our team.”
It was a great goal for Magee who has made it a habit of coming up big, scoring in each of the playoff games for Galaxy the past two seasons with the exception of MLS Cup. But this finish was particularly special as Magee exhibited fantastic technique to turn a volley from 12 yards out into and upper corner screamer.
When asked what he was thinking as the cross was coming towards him, Magee, never one to shy from candor replied:
“I was thinking don’t do what I did on the one before that when I put in the 20th row. But no, my eyes got big and that felt amazing.”
Donovan, would tack on a second drawing a penalty against Martin Bonjour who had been inserted just moments earlier for an injured Jay Demerit, and the Galaxy would see the game out well against Vancouver who looked too heavy legged to mount a comeback after giving chase for most of the game.
The team’s now head in different directions with Vancouver’s season now over, while the Galaxy now turn their focus upon California rivals San Jose. It was a tough defeat no doubt for the second year club, and the head coach sought to try and find some perspective on the team and on the match postgame.
“The overall effort from our players, the belief, the determination was top class,” said Vancouver manager Martin Rennie after the game.
“I think it showed our club is making a big step forward this season, and had a good season, we’ve taken massive strides forward in that regard and got ourselves into the playoffs for the first time and really I think with a little bit of luck we could have easily got ourselves into the next round.”
The Galaxy now turn their attention on a renewed rivalry that saw three dramatic games take place this season. San Jose twice came back from two goals down for a pair of victories against the defending champions and in the third game a one goal deficit was erased twice for a draw.
The teams will play Sunday at 6pm at the Home Depot Center for their first leg with the return leg taking place Wednesday at Buck Shaw Stadium.
“I think we’re in a good spot,” said Magee, “We were asking for San Jose and we wanted them and now we got them.”
Bruce Arena was forced into a different line-up with three injuries forcing the inclusion of some different players. Hector Jimenez was brought on for Sean Franklin who presumably was still suffering the effects of a leg injury that saw him leave the weekend game against Seattle at halftime, and Mike Magee started in place of Christian Wilhelmsson who was also out with a right leg injury.
Vancouver made one change from their weekend lineup at Real Salt Lake inserting Barry Robson for speedster Dane Richards, as Martin Rennie looked to maintain his compact style in hopes of absorbing pressure.
Matt Watson was isolated out on the touch line when he beat Hector Jimenez comprehensively. The Englishman then cut the ball back to Darren Mattocks who with his first touch of the game knocked the ball off the far post and into the net for the early lead.
It was a bit of a shock for the Galaxy as the goal game in the first time Vancouver entered the penalty area and it was the first goal that the Whitecaps have scored in this their fourth trip to the Home Depot Center.
From there Vancouver did well to stay compact, concede ground on defense and maintain shape while they absorbed pressure. The Whitecaps seemed content in allowing the Galaxy to attack down the flanks and flood their own defensive area with ball winners on the Galaxy’s numerous crosses.
They had spells of possession where they were able to mount counter attacks with Watson and Mattocks doing most of the heavy lifting in the offensive end.
The Galaxy were clearly out of sync and struggled to come up with a cohesive plan of attack. Beckham was unusually sloppy both in his crosses and in his ability to connect on shorter overlapping runs down the right hand side as well.
The game was going according to plan for the visitors for much for first half. The Galaxy claimed a shout for a penalty just a minute before halftime as Donovan got tangled with a Vancouver defender, but the referee would not award him the spot kick. They were awarded a consolation prize as Magee was undercut by Koffie just outside the area, but Knighton made a terrific save on Beckham’s free kick diving to the near upper corner to punch the ball out for a corner.
Halftime looked like more of the same, with the Galaxy dominating possession and Vancouver putting 11 men behind the ball and challenging the Galaxy to find a way through the bodies.
Looking to try something new as the team looked bereft of ideas, Arena took off Jimenez in favor of Marcelo Sarvas in the 53rd minute hoping his short passing skills might offer something dangerous.
Six minutes later Rennie would bring off Mattocks who was left to do most of the chasing on the evening up top for Kenny Miller.
Despite the consistent pressure, Vancouver was not unnerved. The Galaxy looked most dangerous on set pieces when their big center backs were able to join the fray.
In fact the second best chance of the match came for the visitors as they countered after a poor Galaxy turnover with Matt Watson leading the way. He played a nice give and go with Miller and was able unleash a nice shot that Saunders did well parry but straight to the feet of Robson who hesitated and after two cut backs couldn’t get his shot past the sprawling defense.
And it would not take the Galaxy long to punish them.
With Vancouver having committed number forward, the Galaxy found space attacking the other direction earning a corner attack as Beckham played a ball of Demerit. For the first time of the match, Beckham elected to play a short corner with Juninho who had come over towards the flag in support. Juninho would sent a wait high ball back across toward the penalty spot where Mike Magee would await the cross and meet it with a technical volley that found the upper corner on the far side of the goal.
The equalizer came more as a relief to home crowd who had grown uptight with their team’s inability to penetrate the defense.
The relief would soon turn to jubilation two minutes later as Landon Donovan got an inch of Martin Bonjour, who came on after the first goal for an injured Demerit, after being played in behind the defense and when Bonjour outstretched an arm to make contact Donovan went to ground earning a penalty kick that he himself would finish to give his side the 2-1 lead.
The goal would force Vancouver to come out of their defensive shell in the final 20 minutes. They would attempt to push men forward, but they lacked the legs to muster much offense after having spent the first 70 minutes on the chase.
With the Whitecaps having heavy legs, the Galaxy did well to keep possession and move the ball from side to side forcing their opponents to give further chase.
The only chance the ‘Caps were able to produce resulted in a nice cutback move by Thorrington just inside the area, who would then fall the ground grasping his face as though a flailing arm had made contact with the midfielder, but he was not awarded a penalty.
In then end the Galaxy confidently saw the game out for the 2-1 victory. Vancouver tempted fate by playing defensive soccer and were just 25 minutes from plan’s execution, but in the end it was the Galaxy who performed the execution with two goals in two minutes to move them along in the playoffs to face San Jose in the conference semi-finals.
12.Josh Saunders; 2.Todd Dunivant, 4.Omar Gonzalez, 21.Tommy Meyer, 16.Hector Jimenez (8.Marcelo Sarvas 52′); 10.Landon Donovan, 19.Juninho (26.Michael Stephens 83′), 23.David Beckham, 18.Mike Magee; 7.Robbie Keane, 14.Edson Buddle
Substitutes not used: 24.Brian Perk, 29.Andrew Boyens, 32.Jack McBean, 33.Jose Villarreal, 35.Bryan Gaul
Vancouver Whitecaps FC
18.Brad Knighton; 12.Young-Pyo Lee, 40.Andy O’Brien, 6.Jay DeMerit (15.Martin Bonjour 70′), 3.Jordan Harvey; 28.Gershon Koffie, 4.Alain Rochat, 11.John Thorrington, 16.Matt Watson (20.Dane Richards 80′); 14.Barry Robson, 22.Darren Mattocks (7.Kenny Miller 59′)
Substitutes not used: 1.Joe Cannon, 27.Jun Marques Davidson, 31.Russell Teibert, 37.Camilo Sanvezzo