GALAXY: Alajuela win has L.A. in trouble
ALAJUELA, Costa Rica -- Had the Galaxy held on to a lead in the final 10 minutes of last week's defeat at Morelia, their place in next year's CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals would be more or less assured.
After a second successive road loss in the region's club championship, their hopes of making the knockout stage are in doubt.
Costa Rican champion Alajuelese used a terrific free kick by Pablo Antonio and a superb performance from its backline Wednesday night to surge atop the Group A standings with a 1-0 triumph in front of a singing, chanting, swearing -- at David Beckham, mostly -- crowd at Estadio Alejandro Morera Soto in the San Jose suburbs.
La Liga (3-1-0) moved three points above Mexico's Morelia, which plays Thursday, and the Galaxy (2-2-0), which will be in must-win territory next week at Home Depot Center in its rematch with the Mexicans, dropped from the top spot to third. Only the top two advance from the group stage.
They'll have to win without Beckham.
The Galaxy star -- cheered and jeered by a nearly packed house at the compact stadium -- picked up his second yellow card of Group A play seven minutes into the second half after tripping Luis Miguel Valle in midfield.
Jamaican referee Courtney Campbell delayed his decision, reaching for the card only after lobbying from Alajuelense players, and it carries a one-game suspension.
Alajuela went ahead in the 28th minute. Juninho knocked Jonathan McDonald off the ball about 10 yards above the semicircle, and Antonio's left-footed free kick curled into the upper-left corner, beyond outstretched goalkeeper Josh Saunders' arms.
Saunders never had a chance.
Antonio was sensational. Nominally a left-sided midfielder, La Liga's captain roamed inside at will, working with central midfielder Marcelo Fazzio to connect the Alajuelense attack, surging forward at opportune times and testing L.A.'s defense with several shots from distance -- most off-target, if just barely, but all of them sharp and tidy.
The first half otherwise belonged to the Galaxy, which won the aerial battles and held possession, not that it meant a whole lot. The hard, unforgiving turf provided bounces high and unnatural, and when L.A. found paths into the Alajuela box, rarely did the ball fall to their feet in the right spots.
When it did, the desire to take an extra touch -- Juninho, at the top of the box from a 45th-minute Landon Donovan-Mike Magee sequence, was the worst offender -- took its toll.
The Galaxy had two solid scoring opportunities in the first 45 minutes. The first, after four minutes, came through Beckham's service -- a lofted ball to the left side of Alajuela's box that Magee volleyed off a nice-sized bounce. Goalkeeper Patrick Pemberton kept it out of his net but spilled the rebound, and an onrushing Donovan slapped it just past the left post.
Robbie Keane volleyed a Beckham corner kick over the bar 15 minutes later.
Saunders, who in last week's loss at Morelia endured a rough final stretch after making seven stupendous saves to keep L.A. in command through 83 minutes, was solid throughout -- under far less pressure than in Mexico. He was required to make just one difficult save, diving right to push Antonio's one-bouncer from distance around the post in the 14th minute.
Alajuela was dominant in the second half and came close to scoring four times. But Omar Gonzalez cleared Giancarlo Gonzalez's shot in the 52nd minute, Luis Sequiera headed McDonald's cross past the right post in the 61st, Saunders made a leg save on McDonald's open shot in the 67th, and Giancarlo Gonzalez bounced a header from a corner kick over the bar in the 72nd.
WORTH NOTING: Home teams have won six of seven games in Group A. Only Alajuelense, with a victory last week at Honduran champ Motagua, has picked up points on the road. ... Juninho was back in L.A.'s lineup after missing last week's games against Morelia and Vancouver because of a groin strain. He was suspended for the game in Mexico after a controversial red card in the first meeting with Alajuela. ... Morelia (2-1-0) plays Thursday night against Motagua (0-3-0) in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, then visits the Galaxy next Wednesday night. L.A. wraps up group play Oct. 20 in Honduras. ... The Galaxy won the first meeting with Alajuela, on Aug. 25, a 2-0 decision behind goals by Gonzalez and Chad Barrett.
Alajuelense 1, Galaxy 0
A -- Pablo Antonio 28
Alajeulense: Patrick Pemberton; Jose Salvatierra, Giancarlo Gonzalez, Jhonny Acosta, Porfirio Lopez; Kevin Sancho (Christopher Meneses, 80), Marcelo Fazzio, Luis Miguel Valle, Pablo Antonio (Juan Guzman, 86); Luis Sequeira (Allen Guevara, 64), Jonathan McDonald.
Galaxy: Josh Saunders; Bryan Jordan, Omar Gonzalez, A.J. DeLaGarza, Todd Dunivant; Landon Donovan, David Beckham, Juninho (Paolo Cardozo, 68), Mike Magee; Robbie Keane, Chad Barrett (Adam Cristman, 62). Unused subs: Chris Birchall, Frankie Hejduk, Jovan Kirovski, Brian Perk, Michael Stephens.
Yellow cards: Sancho 37, O. Gonzalez 46+, Beckham 52, Pemberton 58, Lopez 66, Jordan 69.
Referee: Courtney Campbell (Jamaica). Att.: 16,000 (estimate).
1. Alajuelense (Costa Rica) 3-1-0 6-4 9
2. Morelia (Mexico) 2-1-0 6-2 6
2. Galaxy 2-2-0 5-3 6
4. Motagua (Honduras) 0-3-0 2-10 0