TORONTO -- Things couldn't have started much worse for the Galaxy on Wednesday night: Two crosses, two defensive miscues, two goals, and a gaping deficit to be bridged to keep alive the hope of a continental title.
The Galaxy got one goal back nearly a half-hour in, then scored a stunning equalizer in the closing minutes -- Landon Donovan stabbing a loose ball into the back of the net following a David Beckham corner kick -- to claim a 2-2 draw in the first leg of their CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal showdown with Toronto FC.
It quieted a raucous crowd of 47,658 at Rogers Centre and left L.A. needing a victory or low-scoring draw -- 0-0 or 1-1 -- in next week's second leg at Home Depot Center to advance to a semifinal meeting with Mexico's Santos Laguna or Major League Soccer rival Seattle Sounders.
Donovan tallied in the 88th minute, capping a solid final hour after a horrendous beginning in which former German national-teamer Torsten Frings delivered crosses for a 2-0 Toronto advantage after just 17 minutes.
“We put ourselves in a bit of a tough situation, but our response to that was really good,” said Donovan, playing his first game since a bout with flu and bronchitis sapped the strength he built up during a seven-week loan spell in England with Everton. “It would have been a little bit cruel leaving there losing, 2-1. We had a number of chances and on a different night could have scored four or five goals.”
The strike came from a corner after Beckham, who had to wade through waves of streamers tossed his way every time we went to the flag for a kick. This time a beer can came flying by.
“I think everyone saw what happened,” he said. “It's disappointing because I think a crowd like that turns out, it's a great atmosphere, great to play in front of. The majority of fans -- almost all of the fans -- created an amazing atmosphere tonight, so it's disappointing, but it's a minority.”
The equalizer, Beckham said, “you know it was coming. It felt like we were never going to get that goal. We had lots of chances and we couldn't put the ball in the back of the net. The ball didn't roll sometimes for us. But we kept at it. I think we deserved a draw at least, but we have to start the game better. That was the disappointing thing for the night.”
Frings was pivotal early, setting up goals on a corner kick the Galaxy failed to adequately clear and then a long cross that found rookie Luis Silva -- the former Salesian High School and UC Santa Barbara star -- for a perfectly placed header that beat goalkeeper Josh Saunders to the far post.
Mike Magee emphatically finished a Sean Franklin cross to trim the deficit in the 29th minute, and L.A. tightened its defense all over the field to slow Toronto's fast, explosive attack after its initial success. Beckham was key, moving deep to set L.A.'s attack with his trademark on-the-dime long balls.
L.A. was the better team in an electric second half. The Galaxy is still in preseason form -- Toronto, too -- and continue to sort out issues created by Omar Gonzalez's knee injury, which cost them the second goal barely five minutes after the first.
Donovan paced himself (with so many games coming up in so short a span) until about midway into the second half, too often halting runs he would have continued energetically when healthy. And forwards Robbie Keane and Edson Buddle appeared to be speaking different languages until nearly an hour in, their chemistry absent after just four training sessions together.
The ragged artificial turf -- spongy in the middle, hard on the edges, with seams that twice contributed to whiffs on shot attempts, first by Buddle and then Magee -- did L.A. no favors but didn't seem to bother Toronto's quicker, more explosive attack.
The Reds, in the biggest game in the club's brief history, spread the narrow field as wide as possible, with Ashtone Morgan on the left flank and Richard Eckersley on the right, and opened space in L.A.'s defense, then took advantage.
It led to a corner kick 11 minutes in, with Frings pumping the ball into a crowded goalmouth. Magee, above the taller Buddle, put his head to the ball, but he sent it squarely back into the middle, where Ryan Johnson stood ready to slam it into the net.
The roar from the red-clad crowd had barely died down when Frings struck again, this time with greater brilliance. He was on the right flank, just a few yards inside the midfield stripe, when he picked out Silva just above the L.A. box. Andrew Boyens, A.J. DeLaGarza's partner in central defense in Gonzalez's absence, let Silva slip in alone behind him, and the lifelong Galaxy fan -- Toronto's first pick in January's MLS SuperDraft -- fell to his knees in awe when his header found the net.
The Galaxy was the better side for most of the rest of the way. They trimmed the deficit in the 29th minute: Donovan, absent until that point, fed a short ball to Franklin on the right flank, and TFC goalkeeper Stefan Frei could barely could get a hand on the cross as it soared overhead. Magee's first-time half-volley from the edge of the 6 hit nothing but net.
It led to an electric second half filled with chances for both sides. Silva went to the turf to deny Buddle in the goalmouth from a Beckham free kick in the 47th minute, and Keane fired wide in the 57th after a nice combination with Buddle, who stumbled along the turf, then recovered with a fine run from midfield. The turf stopped Keane four minutes later, when he couldn't corral the high bounces from a Todd Dunivant throw-in and blasted through the goalmouth from a tough angle.
Danny Koevermans had Toronto's best second-half chance, shooting wide from Johnson's feed in the 77th minute.
WORTH NOTING: The Galaxy has 29 players on its active roster. Brazilian defender Leonardo, still rehabbing torn anterior cruciate and lateral collateral ligaments from last season, also has been placed on the Disabled List. He and Gonzalez will be eligible to return at the end of April, but Gonzalez, of course, will be out much longer. … TFC was without Nick Soolsma and Julian de Guzman, both suspended for the first leg. … Former UC Santa Barbara star Eric Avila, acquired last August from FC Dallas, is cup-tied to the Hoops and cannot play for Toronto during the current Champions League. … Toronto FC fans, led by a Highlander band, marched from Air Canada Centre to Rogers Centre, perhaps a half-mile, before the match. Streets were shut off for the march. … Rogers SportsNet, which telecast the match in Canada, had a “Beckham Cam” that followed Beckham thoughout the game.
CONCACAF CHAMPIONS LEAGUE
Quarterfinals, first leg
Rogers Centre (Toronto)
Toronto FC 2, Galaxy 2
T -- Ryan Johnson 12
T -- Luis Silva (Torsten Frings) 17
LA -- Mike Magee (Sean Franklin) 29
LA -- Landon Donovan 88
Toronto FC: Stefan Frei; Richard Eckersley, Ty Harden, Torsten Frings, Miguel Aceval; Luis Silva (Aaron Maund, 88), Terry Dunfield (Matt Stinson, 92+), Ashtone Morgan; Ryan Johnson, Danny Koevermans, Joao Plata (Reggie Lambe, 58). Unused subs: Oscar Cordon, Doneil Henry, Milos Kocic.
Galaxy: Josh Saunders; Sean Franklin, Andrew Boyens (Michael Stephens, 87), A.J. DeLaGarza, Todd Dunivant; Landon Donovan, David Beckham, Juninho (Chad Barrett, 87), Mike Magee; Edson Buddle, Robbie Keane. Unused subs: Bryan Gaul, Hector Jimenez, Dan Keat, Tommy Meyer, Brian Perk.
Yellow cards: Koevermans 58, Frei 80.
Referee: Courtney Campbell (Jamaica). Att.: 47,658.
Quarterfinals, first leg
(Home teams listed first; all times Pacific)
Morelia (Mexico) 1, Monterrey (Mexico) 3
Toronto FC (Canada) 2, Galaxy (U.S.) 2
Seattle (U.S.) vs. Santos Laguna (Mexico), 7 p.m.
Isidro Metapan (El Salvador) vs. Pumas UNAM (Mexico), 5 p.m.