Los Angeles Soccer: Damian Manso
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.
Atlas, the worst team in the fall, opened the second half of the Mexican Primera Division season with a stunning romp that underscores coach Benjamin Galindo's savvy eye for talent.
The Guadalajara-based club, which made several major additions to its roster during the winter break, opened the spring Clausura on Saturday with a 5-0 domination of visiting Morelia.
Gerardo Espinoza matched his Apertura goals total, scoring twice, to lead the Zorros. Former Chicago Fire defender Wilman Conde scored in his Mexican League debut, and 19-year-old Christian Diaz (in his first top-tier game in more than a year) and Daniel Osorno (with his first of the season) also tallied.
“I congratulated the guys in the locker room because [there was] not a single player who did not have a good performance. It speaks well of the commitment that exists with the team,” Galindo told reporters afterward.
“It's a good win which gives us confidence, but that's all. What we have to do is keep working with the same commitment that we had during the preseason.”
Atlas went through three coaches in a 3-10-4 fall campaign, but Galindo, a former Mexican national-teamer, went shopping in four countries to strengthen the club. Conde, Brazilian midfielder Lucio Flavio (from Botafogo) and midfielder Lucas Ayala (from UANL Tigres) contributed to the win Saturday.
BIG BOYS BEATEN: America got robbed. Monterrey got jobbed.
America, a sure title contender, saw two perfectly good goals erased on mistaken offside calls in a 2-0 home loss to Pachuca, which got goals midway through each half by Yulian Anchico and then Edgar Benitez.
Monterrey, which last month won the Apertura title, was outclassed at home by San Luis, also 2-0 -- with the Gladiadores' first goal, by Osmar Mares in the 71st minute, clearly offside. Juan Carlos Medina's sweet chip in stoppage, with the Rayados down a man, doubled the advantage.
Pachuca didn't have huge expectations to meet at the FIFA Club World Cup in the United Arab Emirates. Nobody expected the Mexican club (and not even the best of Mexican clubs) to reach the final -- that's, as always, the domain of the Europeans and South Americans.
But the Tuzos failure to advance from the quarterfinals, for the second time in three appearances in FIFA's club championship, is a grave disappointment that makes it difficult to counter perceptions that CONCACAF's leagues aren't at a particularly high level.
Pachuca was eliminated from the competition in its opener Friday, falling to African champ TP Mazembe, from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Mbenza Bedi scored the only goal, sweetly finishing high inside the near post from Mulota Kabangu's flick into the box in the 21st minute.
Two of Pachuca's Americans saw action -- Jose Francisco Torres started and former Galaxy forward Herculez Gomez came on in the second half -- and good for them. The experience certainly is worthwhile.
Pachuca had its chances: Damian Manso struck the post in the 17th minute and Raul Martinez the crossbar in the 60th. But the Mexicans head to Wednesday's fifth-place game, against the loser in Saturday's quarterfinal between UAE's Al-Wahda and South Korea's Seongnam Ilhwa, the Asian champion.
Pachuca's in, Toluca and Guadalajara are out, and Pumas UNAM scored a big victory to claim the final berth in the Mexican Primera Division's playoffs.
Pachuca, with three Americans, struck early to beat Necaxa, 2-1, on Friday night, then waited 24 hours -- through five games -- to celebrate, clinching a top-eight spot when Atlas rallied to tie UANL Tigres on Saturday night.
It was a wild final regular-season weekend in the Apertura, featuring four late comebacks -- two of them playing decisive roles in the playoff race -- and Guadalajara's finest moment of the campaign, which was far too little for one of Mexico's two most popular clubs.
A quick rundown:
WHO'S IN: Jaguares (6-4-7), Pachuca (7-6-4) and Pumas (7-6-4) won the three available berths, all finishing one point ahead of Tigres (6-5-6), which saw its playoff hopes die on two penalty kicks.
Jaguares clinched with a 1-1 draw at Gallos Blancos, with Jorge Rodriguez's 81st minute equalizer providing the Chiapas club the required goal. Queretaro had gone ahead just two minutes earlier on a tremendous Sergio Oreteman drive to the upper-left corner.