GALAXY: L.A. finishes on the spot
Now we're left to wait, a few weeks probably, before we learn whether David Beckham will return to the Galaxy, a decision he says he'll make during Christmas break with his family.
If his deliberations lead to Paris Saint-Germain, then he wrapped up his tenure with L.A. with a string of stunning performances, the last in his finale, an entertaining friendly Tuesday against the Melbourne Victory.
Beckham was creative and vibrant, steering a Galaxy attack that finally came alive in the second half of a 2-2 draw at Etihad Stadium in Melbourne. L.A., its legs weary from the long postseason trek, rallied from a two-goal deficit on two Robbie Keane penalties, then won a post-90 minute shootout from the spot.
It was a decent close to a spectacular season that began, with preseason work, way back in January, and when they regroup next month -- after about six weeks off -- so much will depend on what decision Beckham makes. He is so vital to how they attack that an offensive rethink will be necessary if he signs in France or, less likely, England.
That was apparent again Tuesday, with Beckham again dictating the Galaxy attack, delivering telling long balls, bending crosses and space-opening passes -- and, more so than usual, getting ahead in the attack and finding a few scoring chances.
Beckham's best chance came from 60 yards. A Victory giveaway in the 13th minute gave him an open path in the center circle, and seeing goalkeeper Ante Covic well off his line, he blasted a line drive that drifted left. It was almost a replica of his near-goal Saturday against the Philippines.
Beckham was responsible for the tying goal, drawing a 50th-minute penalty kick when taken down by Petar Franjic as he stepped into Melbourne's box to collect a return pass from Keane.
The Galaxy wasted a lot of chances -- Keane, Beckham, Landon Donovan and Paolo Cardozo failed on open shots and Hector Jimenez hit the left post from 26 yards -- and were fortunate to be down by just a goal at the break.
The Victory tormented the Galaxy through the first half behind Carlos Hernandez, who scored in the 15th minute and set up Isaka Cernak with a terrific through ball to make it 2-0 in the 37th. Cernak and defense-stretching forward Archie Thompson also tore holes in an L.A. backline weakened by Omar Gonzalez's departure -- he flew home Sunday to attend to personal matters -- and Sean Franklin's move into the middle.
Hernandez scored after Melbourne sent the ball wide to the right, across the box to Cernak and on to the Costa Rican playmaker atop the box. Hernandez's first shot was blocked by A.J. DeLaGarza, but he went left with the rebound and neatly chipped Josh Saunders for the goal.
Melbourne spent much of the first half running at the Galaxy backline or setting up around the L.A. box, and Saunders made two one-on-one stops on Thompson in the first 26 minutes. The second goal was a real beauty, with Cernak getting behind Franklin to first-time Hernandez's feed through Saunders' legs.
That Keane was taking the penalties for L.A. was curious -- Donovan takes spot kicks for the Galaxy, and he was on the field. The Irishman, who scored four goals on the three-game Pacific tour, stutter-stepped and fired left on both tries.
The second, the one Beckham won, was legit. The first, in the 40th minute, not so much. A Beckham corner kick was headed out and won by Chris Birchall, whose blast into traffic from the top of the arc hit off Matthew Foschini's arm. Referee Strebre Delovski immediately pointed to the spot, but Foschini had no way to get out of the ball's path and did everything possible to avoid handling the ball.
The Galaxy were far better in the second half, a combination of Hernandez's and Thompson's (and, later, Cernak's) departures for younger (in some cases quite dynamic) talent and some changes in the back for L.A. Frankie Hejduk took over at right back for Bryan Jordan, helping to quiet Cernak, and Dasan Robinson -- a real center back -- took over for Franklin, who moved into midfield with Donovan pushing up front, just like in the MLS Cup final.
The Galaxy was better at the spot at the end, too, winning the tiebreaker, 4-3. Only Donovan missed for L.A., casually hitting the crossbar on team's the first attempt. Paulo Retre hit the bar on Melbourne's fourth shot, Michael Stephens pulled the Galaxy even, and Cardozo rolled in the winner after Saunders' foot save on a Marco Rojas' try up the middle.
Gregg Berhalter, playing his final game as a pro, came on for Beckham in the 89th minute, and his farewell shot -- his final touch -- was the highlight of the penalty-kick shootout: a cheeky little chip up the middle as goalkeeper Lawrence Thomas went sprawling to his left.
WORTH NOTING: Juninho again missed with the calf injury sustained in the tour opener. Ryan Thomas was ill. ... Victory star Harry Kewell, who just returned from a hamstring injury, was held out. ... Beckham's ailing hamstring was bothering him before he was pulled. ... Jack McBean made his fourth first-team appearance of the year -- and second of the tour. ... The Galaxy went 30-9-13 in all games this year, including ticketed friendlies. They were 2-1 on post-friendly shootouts, losing after draws with Club Tijuana in March and Manchester City in July.
Etihad Stadium (Melbourne, Australia)
Melbourne Victory 2, Galaxy 2
(Galaxy wins on penalties, 4-3)
M -- Carlos Hernandez 15
M -- Isaka Cernak (Carlos Hernandez) 37
LA -- Robbie Keane pen. 40
LA -- Robbie Keane pen. 50
Melbourne Victory: Ante Covic (Lawrence Thomas, 46); Matthew Foschini (Paulo Retre, 69), Adrian Leijer (Petar Franjic, 46), Rodrigo Vargas, Diego Ferreira; Tom Pondeljak, Grant Brebner (James Jeggo, 59), Carlos Hernandez (Marco Rojas, 46), Isaka Cernak (Luke O'Dea, 73); Archie Thompson (Juan Carlos Solorzano, 46), Danny Alsopp.
Galaxy: Josh Saunders; Bryan Jordan (Frankie Hejduk, 46), Sean Franklin (Hector Jimenez, 65), A.J. DeLaGarza, Todd Dunivant (Dan Keat, 83); Landon Donovan, David Beckham (Gregg Berhalter, 89), Chris Birchall (Michael Stephens, 46), Mike Magee (Paolo Cardozo, 46); Adam Cristman (Dasan Robinson, 46), Robbie Keane (Jack McBean, 85). Unused subs: Jovan Kirovski, Miguel Lopez, Dustin McCarty, Brian Perk.
Yellow card: Franjic 49.
Penalty kicks: Melbourne -- Vargas G, Jeggo G, Pondeljak G, Retre CB, Rojas SV; Galaxy -- Donovan CB, Jimenez G, Berhalter G, Stephens G, Cardozo G. (Key: G -- goal; CB -- crossbar; SV -- saved)
Referee: Strebre Delovski. Att.: 34,608.