Western Conference Semi-Final 2nd Leg
San Jose Earthquakes 1 : 3 LA Galaxy
By Patrick Beatty
After a brilliant run by the Supporter Shield Winning San Jose Earthquakes, the Goonies nearly pulled off another daring escape. However, this time the chances just wouldn’t become goals and the resolute defense eventually broke under the weight of injuries and an off-night for some very good players. Frank Yallop summed it up well:
It was a shame we didn’t quite go into the playoffs at full strength and maybe playing our better soccer. We were playing pretty well but not at the top of our game because of injuries.
The clear cool night at Buckshaw stadium in Santa Clara, California was electric with the sold out crowd all wearing blue Lenhart wigs and scant parking to be found anywhere for anyone. Just as quickly as the night began well, the game quickly got ugly in the first 15 minutes for the San Jose Earthquakes. Usually calm and cool stalwart possible defender of the year, Victor Bernardez, earned a yellow card for an elbow to Omar Gonzalez just outside the box.
After repelling one Beckham free kick, San Jose quickly had to deal with another assault by Beckham due to Edson Buddle earning some soft fouls just outside the penalty area.
Almost immediately disaster struck as Bernardez went down with a right knee strain and had to come out with rookie Ike Opara thrown into the game.
Opara is a good player but while he had a good second half of soccer, his first half showed how important Bernardez was. Landon Donovan thought otherwise:
I think Ike did a good job. We felt we could have some success against Bernardez. He has been good all year, but we certainly thought they were some weaknesses to exploit. So, [his injury and replacement by Opara] was probably a wash.
After the dangerous first 15 minutes, the second 15 minutes saw San Jose’s Lenhart and Chavez pressuring the attack, resulting in a frustrated Beckham earning a yellow card. However, several miscues and losses of possession from normally dominant midfield players like Sam Cronin made most of those chances dissipate as quickly as they appeared. In those moments, highly skilled and experienced players like Robbie Keane will make you pay.
In the 21st minute, Keane cut across the defense outside the box and without pressure from Opara released a beautiful laser that rattle off the post past a helpless Busch for the first goal of the night. As Bruce Arena said:
Robbie is a great player. Since he came back from the Euros, he has been the best player in the league. He scores big goals. He is competitive. He has bought into MLS. He loves LA and he’s a great leader for this team.
From there, it just got worse for San Jose. The final 15 minutes of the first half began with San Jose pressuring the LA goal and the striker with 27 goals for the 2012 season missing a sitter.
As San Jose’s top players were shut down or missed chances, the LA Galaxy kicked into another gear as Landon Donovan went into beast mode.
In the 34th minute, Donovan proceeded to slice through the defense from the wings and slip a nice ball to Keane, who rounded Busch and slotted a ball into the back of the net. As Irish international, Robbie Keane said:
You need experienced players in situations like this. Edson creating space. Landon is always going to find you. The difference is our players that can find little pockets.
With LA winning on aggregate, the San Jose team seemed to have a dug a small hole for themselves, but one they could still escape. Five minutes later, it would seem like an abyss. In the 39th minute, Simon Dawkins failed to pressure to Landon Donovan on the wing.
Donovan coolly passed the ball to Mr. November, Mike Magee, who buried his chance into the back of the net. As Donovan said “Robbie Keane and Mike were lethal.” At that point, it certainly did seem that San Jose were dead.
With a two goal deficit on aggregate upon entering the second half, the Earthquakes continued to press with excellent work by the speedy winger Marvin Chavez. However, chances continued to be missed or play cut out by the strong performance of the LA Galaxy defense. LA Galaxy defender, Omar Gonzalez summed it up:
Most of our guys won the 50-50 battles. [Rookie] Tommy [Meyer] is part of the reason we won tonight. It was a tough battle [with Lenhart] tonight. I got the better of him and we finally put this team down.
As the minutes wore on, the LA Galaxy continued to counter San Jose’s missed chances. Luckily for San Jose, Wilhelmsson could not convert on two easy goal scoring opportunities. With hope seeming to fade, the 73rd minute saw a hobbled Alan Gordon enter the match for Beitashour. His presence was immediately felt as he won balls and held the ball.
Just eight minutes after entering, Mr. Efficiency scored. With Gordon in the game, San Jose spirits lifted. With his goal, they became a team of Goonies possessed. David Beckham stated:
Funnily enough, Gordo always seems to score against his old teams. He is always going to be a threat.
Gordon was everywhere. For a man with a weak ankle, he tracked back into the final third and stripped players of balls and ran everywhere. It seems like another Goonies moment was about to happen. In stoppage time, it almost did.
Again this Goonie moment was created by some wonderful hold-up play by Gordon in the box and Wondolowski slipping into space. The final piece was the ball slipped to an open rookie, Opara, who missed the goal from close range.
Was this the end of the Earthquakes? No.
The first thing Bruce Arena said and reiterated in his post-match interview was:
It wouldn’t be right if I didn’t take a moment to congratulate San Jose on their year. They are really champions in the league.
…and we know, Goonies never say die and neither do the San Jose Earthquake fans. An hour after the game, as I was walking out to my car, you could still hear the supporters singing to the players. For the team, the experience of being deep in the playoffs and CONCACAF Champions League next year can only help in the future. San Jose Earthquakes President Dave Kaval probably put it best:
To be continued… This is only the end of the first movie. Get ready for an epic trilogy. #GooniesNeverSayDie
San Jose Earthquakes: John Busch, Steven Beitashour, Jason Hernandez, Victor Bernardez, Justin Morrow; Marvin Chavez, Sam Cronin, Rafael Baca, Simon Dawkins; Chris Wondolowski, Steven Lenhart
Bench: David Bingham, Alan Gordon, Ike Opara, Ramiro Corrales, Khari Stephenson, Jed Zayner
LA Galaxy: Josh Saunders; Sean Franklin, Tommy Meyer, Omar Gonzalez, Todd Dunivant; Landon Donovan – Captain, David Beckham, Juninho, Mike Magee; Edson Buddle, Robbie Keane
Bench: Bryan Gaul, Michael Stephens, Jose Villarreal, Andrew Boyens, Marcelo Sarvas, Brian Perk, Christian Wilhelmsson
Attendance: 10,525/10,525 (100%)