CARSON -- The Galaxy found redemption when they most needed it Wednesday night, washing away the frustration and injustice of the past few weeks with a stoppage-time goal that delivered a must-have victory in their biggest showdown of the season.
And, of course, everyone took a gander at the linesman, just to make sure.
Juninho's end-of-the-game finish from a corner kick delivered a 2-1 triumph over Morelia at Home Depot Center, exorcizing whatever demons remained from a controversial defeat to the Monarcas in Mexico and leaving L.A. 90 minutes from a berth among the final eight when CONCACAF's Champions League reaches the knockout stage early next year.
“It felt like poetic justice,” said left back Todd Dunivant, who made the feed for Mike Magee's first-half opener, then played a pivotal role in corralling Morelia's counterattack as the Galaxy gambled heavily in the final 10 minutes or so. “I mean, it was pretty ironic the way it happened. Essentially, a tale of two games, and this time it worked out for us and not for them.”
L.A. needed a bit of fortune, a lot of resolve and a series of corner kicks at the end to poke home the winner and put behind them the phantom call that erased Robbie Keane's would-be winner in a 2-1 defeat at Morelia two weeks ago.
It came from the last of three corner kicks near the end, with Chad Barrett rising to nod Landon Donovan's serve into the goalmouth, and Juninho's shot found its way through diving Monarcas goalkeeper Federico Villar and into the net.
The Galaxy, with David Beckham suspended and Keane out with a gluteal injury, was the aggressor from the start, and it paid off with Magee's 21st-minute goal.
A Michael Stephens long ball cleared a scrum at the top of the Morelia box, and Dunivant tracked it down on the left byline and played the ball through defender Marvin Cabrera's legs to Magee. He side-footed it first-time, and Villar, partially screened by Adam Cristman, couldn't keep it from its path inside the far post.
The Monarcas got the equalizer with help from some sloppy defending in the 60th minute. Bryan Jordan cut off a Damian Manso ball into L.A.'s box for Yasser Corona, but Rafael Marquez Lugo got to the ball before Galaxy goalkeeper Josh Saunders or defender Omar Gonzalez, and he was able to slip it past them.
Saunders immediately raced toward Jordan, chastising him for the play, but Corona would have had an open net had Jordan not intervened.
“Positionally, we were kind of out of sorts, and as the ball got slipped in behind, I thought I could just make a play and touch it back,” Jordan said. “It might have been a little too light for the keeper to have it, and defensively it was kind of confused between Josh and Omar maybe.
“It was an all-around bad play, you know what I mean? I could have let it run. It's a tough one no matter how you look at it.”
Morelia was in charge most of the rest of the way, taking advantage of the space the Galaxy left behind as they surged forward looking for a second goal.
“One-one wasn't going to do us any good,” Galaxy coach Bruce Arena said. “If we lost, 4-1, we lose, 4-1. We had to win the game, so we had to be very aggressive going forward.”
Morelia should have put the game away as L.A. surged forward, but Manso struck the crossbar in the 69th minute and Aldo Ramirez rolled the ball just past the right post when 1-on-1 with Saunders in the 87th.
Then the Galaxy's forays began to bear fruit. They won corner kicks in the 88th and 90th minutes, with Donovan trying to connect with the 6-foot-5 Gonzalez, who was well-marked both times. When another corner arrived as stoppage began, L.A. changed things up.
“We had been trying to float Omar, and I feel that kind of set everything up,” said Barrett, who scored a stoppage-time winner in Saturday's Major League Soccer victory over Columbus. “[Omar was] all they really guarded. Nobody was guarding the near post.
“Landon picked me out at the near post -- I just wanted to make sure I got a head on it and flicked it backpost somewhere so somebody could get onto it, and Juni was right there at the best spot, and great finish.”
That was half the battle. All eyes quickly turned to Salvadoran linesman William Torres, who might have flagged Dunivant offside if he'd chosen to -- the Galaxy defender was certainly behind the defense when Juninho connected.
“I stared at him,” Donovan admitted. “I turned and was just waiting for him to put up [his flag], but, thankfully, he didn't.”
Said Dunivant: “I was just hoping they weren't calling me offside. We've been down that road.”
Perhaps it was a little payback after what happened with Keane's goal, and even Arena acknowledged “things may have balanced out tonight,” before adding: “We might be owed a few more favors.”
They won't need any more to reach the quarterfinals. The Galaxy, Morelia and Costa Rican champion Alajuelense all have nine points, and the Alajuela can get to 12 with a victory Thursday night over winless Hondurans Motagua.
The Galaxy finishes up group play Oct. 20 at Motagua, and a victory will send them through no matter what happens in the Moreliap-Alajuela game two days earlier.
“We win, and we're in,” Dunivant said. “That's what you want. You want to have that opportunity at the end of the six games, and we have that.”
WORTH NOTING: Magee departed at halftime with a strained hamstring. ... Rookie Hector Jimenez, making just his second competitive appearance for the Galaxy's first team, was solid on the right flank at the finish. ... Capacity was limited to 7,500 because of an agreement Home Depot Center has with Cal State Dominguez Hills for games on school nights. The majority of the crowd was supporting Morelia. ... Said Monarcas coach Tomas Boy: “We played real well and was superior to [the Galaxy] in all parts of the game. ... One thing about the Galaxy: They never give up. I was very impressed with that quality.”
Home Depot Center (Carson)
Galaxy 2, Morelia (Mexico) 1
LA -- Mike Magee (Todd Dunivant) 21
M -- Rafael Marquez Lugo 60
LA -- Juninho (Chad Barrett) 91+
Galaxy: Josh Saunders; Frankie Hejduk (Hector Jimenez, 72), Omar Gonzalez, A.J. DeLaGarza, Todd Dunivant; Landon Donovan, Michael Stephens, Juninho, Mike Magee (Bryan Jordan, 46); Paolo Cardozo; Adam Cristman (Chad Barrett, 67). Unused subs: Dan Keat, Jovan Kirovski, Miguel Lopez, Brian Perk.
Morelia: Federico Villar; Marvin Cabrera, Enrique Perez, Diego Jimenez, Yasser Corona; Manuel Perez, Felipe Ayala (Aldo Ramirez, 64), Damian Manso, Luis Noriega (Adrian Aldrete, 54); Angel Sepulveda, Rafael Marquez Lugo (Miguel Sabah, 64).
Yellow cards: D. Jimenez 55, DeLaGarza 67, Cardozo 70.
Referee: Joel Aguilar (El Salvador). Att: 7,500.
1. Galaxy 3-2-0 (7-4) 9 points
2. Alajuelense (Costa Rica) 3-1-0 (6-4) 9
3. Morelia (Mexico) 3-2-0 (9-4) 9
4. Motagua (Honduras) 0-4-0 (2-12) 0