Saturday, April 14, 2012
GALAXY: Step forward is a start
By Scott French
CARSON -- It's too soon to declare things are back to normal in Galaxyland, but Saturday night's triumph over the Portland Timbers at Home Depot Center offered a lot of evidence that L.A. is starting to turn a corner after an abysmal first 5½ weeks of the season.
Juninho and David Beckham scored late goals from distance and the Galaxy (2-3-0, 6 points) overcame a first-half deficit to claim a 3-1 triumph, vaulting past the struggling Timbers (1-4-1, 4 points) and out of the Western Conference basement with a performance that ranged from decent to really good.
L.A. had more spirit, more energy, better organization and a liveliness that has been missing during its roughest stretch since coach Bruce Arena took charge in August 2008, but the message in the locker room was simple: This was just a start.
“It's early,” said captain Landon Donovan, who scored a fine goal from Robbie Keane's feed just before halftime and set up Beckham's beauty in second-half stoppage. “It's important, because you can't sit on the bottom for too long, so it was good to get ourselves out of the cellar. We played better [than we had been] last week [in a loss at unbeaten Sporting Kansas City], and today was, I think, our best performance all-around of the season.
“And then we have to keep carrying it to the coming weeks. It's not good enough to have a couple better games, then have a bad game. We have to be consistently better, and I think we're getting back to doing things we're good at.”
A superb debut from Brazilian center back David Junior Lopes, who was acquired in a trade Tuesday from Chivas USA, was pivotal for the Galaxy, which conceded a goal to Kris Boyd in the 23rd minute, then dictated terms the rest of the way. Lopes needed a little time to find his footing, then provided everything L.A. hoped for -- adding a physical dimension to the backline that has been missing without Omar Gonzalez's presence -- and a little more.
He made three huge defensive plays, bodying Scottish finisher Boyd out of contention in the 10th and 51st minutes and sliding the ball away from Jorge Perlaza at the top of the box in the 85th, and admirably partnered rookie Tommy Meyer as A.J. DeLaGarza sat out because of adductor tightness.
Lopes, who hadn't played in Chivas' first five games, should have scored two goals, too. A cross headed back into the goalmouth by Mike Magee caromed off his thigh and over the crossbar in the 69th minute -- “I didn't see the ball,” he said -- and a blast following a Beckham corner kick four minutes later was cleared off the line by Franck Songo'o.
“I was definitely nervous,” Lopes said. “I've played many places and in many leagues, and the first game [for a new club] I've always been very nervous. But I was excited. It took me awhile to get going to realize I'm playing for the Galaxy, one of the biggest clubs in MLS. ... I think I did OK for my debut.”
OK? Well, OK.
“The plan wasn't for him to get thrown in right away, but with A.J. out, he got forced in,” Donovan said. “You could tell he's a competitor, that he was frustrated at Chivas that he wasn't playing, and we're glad to have him. Hopefully, as they say, one's man's trash is another man's treasure.
“For us, he was fantastic. It's hard to see why he hasn't been playing. I think he was great tonight, and he's only going to get better when he gets comfortable.”
Juninho, who has been searching for his form since the season began, played his finest game of the campaign, although Arena noted he “still has a ways to go.” His goal, in the 83rd minute, was vital, breaking a 1-1 tie in typical Juni fashion: from outside the box. He scored four from outside the box last season.
It followed the clearance of a corner kick, one of nine taken by the Galaxy, with a Donovan chip back into the box headed out to Portland's Darlington Nagbe. Juninho stripped Nagbe, turned and fired low past diving goalkeeper Troy Perkins and inside the left post.
Beckham nailed down the three points in the 91st minute, a curling ball from 28 yards that dropped in over a leaping Perkins and into the top-right corner of the net -- as nice a goal as he's netted from the run of play.
The ball came from Donovan following a throw-in, and Beckham acknowledged his first touch was “terrible ... but it took me, obviously, into a shooting position. I knew as soon as I hit it, I knew it was going in.”
It capped a celebratory night for a club that needed one, but let's not get ahead of ourselves. L.A. is still eighth in the conference, nine points off Real Salt Lake's lead (and 12 off Sporting Kansas City's advantage in the Supporters' Shield standings). Another step forward needs to be made next week at Colorado.
Might this have been a turning point?
“It's too early [to know],” Arena said. “I'm hopeful. It's still early in the league, but we have to win games now.”
WORTH NOTING: Portland has lost four in a row, and it has let leads get away in the last three games (the first two at home against Real Salt Lake and Chivas), conceding winners after the 80th minute in all three. The Timbers have conceded five goals from the 80th on in the three matches. ... Chad Barrett was paired up front with Keane, with Edson Buddle coming off the bench. Barrett's energy was contagious, and he and Keane had a connection the Irishman hasn't yet formed with Buddle. ... Keane deserved an assist on Donovan's goal -- he beat Eric Brunner on the left flank, cut in along the byline and dropped it back for the finish -- but because a diving Hanyer Mosquera deflected the pass ever so slightly, MLS statistician Opta denied it. ... A moment of silence was held before the game for 25-year-old Italian midfielder Piermario Morosini, who collapsed during Livorno's Serie B match Saturday at Pescara and was pronounced dead at a local hospital. ... Donovan was up early in the morning to watch Everton, the English club he played for on loan in January and February, lose to archrival Liverpool in the F.A. Cup semifinals. “It was a bummer,” he said. “Particularly getting up early and being so excited and watching that happen. I think Everton and their fans and players can be proud of the run they had, but it was disappointing. That's the way the game goes.”
Home Depot Center (Carson)
Galaxy 3, Portland Timbers 1 P -- Kris Boyd (Eric Alexander, Darlington Nagbe) 23
LA -- Landon Donovan 44
LA -- Juninho 83
LA -- David Beckham (Landon Donovan) 91+
Galaxy: Josh Saunders; Sean Franklin, Tommy Meyer, David Junior Lopes, Todd Dunivant; Landon Donovan, David Beckham, Juninho, Mike Magee (Pat Noonan, 80); Chad Barrett (Edson Buddle, 67), Robbie Keane. Unused subs: Andrew Boyens, Bill Gaudette, Bryan Jordan, Kyle Nakazawa, Marcelo Sarvas.
Portland Timbers: Troy Perkins; Steve Purdy, Hanyer Mosquera, Eric Brunner, Mike Chabala; Kalif Alhassan (Franck Songo'o, 58), Jack Jewsbury (Lovel Palmer, 74), Diego Chara, Eric Alexander; Kris Boyd (Jorge Perlaza, 81), Darlington Nagbe. Unused subs: Freddie Braun, Bright Dike, Andrew Jean-Baptiste, Brian Rowe.