The LA Galaxy entered the MLS playoffs with high hopes. They ended the regular season on a good note and barely received the #1 spot in the Western Conference which meant Home Field advantage at the Home Depot Center throughout until the finals. Their opponent also was familiar with the Home Depot Center as it was Chivas USA.
The first round is a best of 2 games with Chivas getting the home field for the first game and the Galaxy is home for the second game. I don’t see the huge advantage of home field for soccer in this concept, as it is just 2 games with an aggregate goal to break any ties.
Game 1 was a sloppy game by both teams. Chivas took the early lead on a beautiful goal by Maicon Santos scoring on a left foot shot past LA goalie Donovan Ricketts. After an error back kick by Chivas into their own zone, the ball came right to Mike Magee who tied it up. Then another mistake by Chivas not clearing it out again as the ball was headed into the zone and this time MLS MVP Landon Donovan was the beneficiary to give LA a 2-1 lead. Now it was the Galaxy turn for a giveaway as a pass back to Ricketts (who came out to get the ball) was intercepted by Maykel Galindo who knotted the game at 2-2. After all of this, the game stayed the same till the end with the help of some fantastic saves by Goalies, Zach Thornton and especially Ricketts.
It was back to the second game with the winner to advance to the semi finals of the Western Conference. This match was much tighter and better played. The defense was sharp for both teams with not a lot of opportunities. There were a couple close first half goals by Chris Klein and David Beckham. Beckham had a great straightaway shot but kicked it too high over the net. Sacha Kljestan had a great chance as well but was denied.
Then finally in the second half, Beckham sent a beautiful cross to Donovan who passed it to an open Magee in the penalty area. Magee was taken down in the penalty area and Chivas knew they were in trouble as Donovan was set to take the penalty shot. I don’t know his percentage, but I have never seen Donovan miss a penalty shot and he didn’t disappoint again. Thornton guessed a certain way thinking Donovan would try to score on the right side as he had done about the last six or seven plus times. As Thornton dove that way, Donovan kicked it more center/left somehow knowing what Thornton was thinking to score easily.
The pressure began to build for Chivas as time was winding away. Galindo, who entered the game as a reserve, almost scored to tie the game. Jovan Kirovski and Eddie Lewis replaced Chris Klein and Mike Magee later in the second half and Beckham gave way to Alan Gordon in the 78th minute. The Galaxy won a tough close match 1-0 to advance to the Western Conference finals.
Western Conference Finals
The Galaxy opponent for this big game was the Houston Dynamo, which has a few stars of their own. Brian Ching, Stuart Holden and Ricardo Clark all have played on the US National team in the past and they have one of the best goalies in the league in Pat Onstad. This game was not the norm. The game was an unusual late start at almost 8:30pm PST and there were two 18- minute power outages (one in each half), which made fans restless. The wave started during the second outage caused by some power dip by California Edison we were told.
Gregg Berhalter and Landon Donovan scored for the Galaxy, who will play in their sixth MLS Cup on Nov. 22 at Seattle’s Qwest Field. Houston came into this game not having allowed a goal in 210 minutes in their 2 games vs. Seattle. Donovan nearly scored early on a great opportunity and Beckham had a free kick from 27 yards away but Onstad made a great save. Donovan had another scoring chance but Onstad deflected it wide of the goal. Edson Buddle tried a long shot but right on goal missing an open Chris Klein on the wing. Brad Davis from the Dynamo had two great scoring chances but came up empty and Ching nearly missed a header to give Houston the lead. The game remained scoreless as they went to extra time. 2-15 minute halves were to be played and if the game still was tied, they would go to penalty shots. With Buddle tiring and losing many balls in the second half, Galaxy Coach and MLS coach of the year, Bruce Arena sent in Alan Gordon to replace Buddle. What a key move that was as Gordon had fresh legs and in my opinion won the game for Los Angeles. His fresh legs got some energy and headers won by the home team. Finally, Gordon won a free kick after getting fouled by Ricardo Clark setting up a Beckham free kick. Omar Gonzalez, MLS rookie of the year, got a head on Beckham’s free kick. The ball deflected off Houston’s Eddie Robinson and fell to an open spot in the box. Berhalter raced onto the ball and buried it into the back of the net. Then in the second 15-minute period, Gordon came up big again. He made a great move and got tacked in the penalty area setting up a penalty kick for you know whom. That’s right, Donovan buried it again and the Galaxy were on their way to Seattle for the finals on Nov. 22nd vs. Real Salt Lake.
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