Los Angeles Soccer: David Beckham

Donovan, Galaxy win second straight MLS Cup

December, 1, 2012

Landon Donovan Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY SportsLandon Donovan scored a goal in Saturday's MLS Cup victory and will decide his future later.

CARSON, Calif. -- Landon Donovan likes to talk about what he calls "being present" -- living in the moment and forgetting the past.

He found himself doing the exact opposite for a half-hour on Saturday afternoon. Donovan couldn't stop thinking about his 13th-minute empty-net whiff in the MLS Cup title game until halftime, when he finally collected himself and re-focused.

Twenty minutes later, his "present-ness" was tested. With Donovan's L.A. Galaxy tied, 1-1, with the Houston Dynamo in Saturday's season finale at the Home Depot Center, he took a crucial penalty kick.

"I'm not gonna fool anyone if I say I was calm about it," Donovan said. "I was pretty nervous. But you have to keep going."

Donovan kneeled for an extended stretch while Houston goalkeeper Tally Hall readied to defend the penalty, given for a Ricardo Clark handball in the 65th minute. Then, as soon as the whistle was blown, Donovan walked up to the penalty spot and delivered the ball to the right side of the net.

In extra time, the Galaxy tacked on another goal via a penalty kick -- which Donovan ceded to Irishman Robbie Keane -- and topped Houston 3-1. L.A. is the MLS Cup repeat champion for the first time in its history, after a 1-0 victory over these same Dynamo last year.

Donovan's early miss was so egregious stadium staffers set off confetti anyway, apparently believing a goal to be a sure bet. A great downfield ball from David Beckham and smart pass from Keane gave Donovan a clear look at an open goal, but his shot inexplicably went wide right.

He wasn't readily involved in the game for the rest of the half. But he then helped spearhead a mad Galaxy rush in the early portion of the second half and was rewarded with the penalty goal, the fifth of his career in an MLS Cup.

"It took some (guts) for him to step up and take that penalty," said Beckham, who played 89 minutes in his final game with the Galaxy, exiting the match to a massive ovation. "Because I could see what he was like after that (first) chance."

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Keane, Galaxy top Seattle 3-0

November, 12, 2012

CARSON, Calif. -- Robbie Keane couldn't help himself.

Christian Wilhelmsson's 67th-minute rebound touch off a Landon Donovan shot appeared to be headed -- a bit slowly, albeit -- for the back of the net in Sunday's Western Conference Finals leadoff leg between the Los Angeles Galaxy and Seattle Sounders.

But Keane, the productive Irish striker, just had to jump in and slam the ball behind Seattle keeper Michael Gspurning for the Galaxy's third and final goal in their 3-0 win.

"He was too slow, eh?" Keane joked afterward of Wilhelmsson.

The teams will play again next Sunday in the return leg in Seattle, with the Sounders now needing to outscore the Galaxy by four goals to advance to the MLS Cup in the aggregate-goal playoff system.

Keane has played inspired soccer in this 2012 postseason, with four goals in four matches thus far. The final one Sunday was a bit of a steal from a teammate, but Keane didn't mind. He was just following the words of his youth coaches, he said, and making sure the ball hit the back of the net as quickly as possible.

"This was on its way in, but it's OK," laughed Wilhelmsson, a Swedish international. "He's a striker. That's how they should think. It's better to be there one time too much than one time too little."

The Galaxy's first goal on Sunday, which coach Bruce Arena called "probably the difference in the game," came in the lone minute of extra time of a tightly played first half.

Wilhelmsson deftly pretended to touch Sean Franklin's pass from the right side, letting Donovan get it freely in the box. Donovan tried to create room for a shot, then delivered a short cross directly to Keane's head for his third postseason goal.

After Donovan nearly found Keane again on a sharp sequence in the 57th minute, the Galaxy added a second goal in the 64th. Keane, coming off a long run through the midfield, passed smartly to Franklin to the right and Franklin one-timed a perfect ball to Mike Magee.

Playing to his “Mr. November” nickname, Magee proceeded to calmly knock it past Gspurning's outstretched hands.

"He gave me a layup," Magee said of Franklin.

The Galaxy had three more serious chances for goals, including in the 76th minute, when Donovan's tap-in was kicked out a foot away from the goal line by Seattle center back Jeff Parke.

"You can't have everything in life," Arena said, smirking, in his postgame news conference.

L.A. goalkeeper Josh Saunders was solid, but he was barely challenged. Seattle's two best chances to score came on a strongly hit deep ball from Osvaldo Alonso in the 31st minute and a poor touch from Galaxy center back Omar Gonzalez in the 50th that almost went in for an own goal.

The Sounders, who beat Real Salt Lake on Thursday to qualify for the semis, were without top goal scorer Eddie Johnson until the 64th minute.

Sunday's return leg is scheduled for 6 p.m. PT at CenturyLink Field in Seattle, meaning the Galaxy will get a week’s break, including the next two days off from practices. Having played four games during the past 11 days and five in the past 15, Keane acknowledged Sunday that there were "a lot of tired legs in our camp."

"We've played about 50 games in the last two weeks," midfielder David Beckham said.

In two games in Seattle this season, the Galaxy lost by a combined six goals, 6-0. Seattle coach Sigi Schmid said he and his team "take solace in that fact," recalling their August 4-0 win, started by a sixth-minute strike from Johnson.

"We know we gotta come out with the same sort of effort," Schmid said.

Final notes: Donovan exited Sunday's match in the 84th minute with what he described as a tightening-up of his hamstring. Arena said the team was "hopeful" he'd be fine. … An announced sellout crowd of 27,000 attended Sunday's match, the second straight sellout at the Home Depot Center. Tickets for a potential Dec. 1 MLS Cup final at the stadium against the Houston Dynamo went on sale shortly after the final whistle Sunday. … Galaxy forward Edson Buddle did not suit up Sunday after suffering an unspecified injury during Saturday's training session. His absence in the lineup led to Wilhelmsson's start.

Galaxy fall to Earthquakes in first leg

November, 5, 2012

CARSON, Calif. -- Josh Saunders punted the ball away as soon as he got two hands firmly on it, but it was too late.

The Los Angeles Galaxy goalkeeper let a controversial free kick slip from his hands and into his net in stoppage time, giving the San Jose Earthquakes a 1-0 advantage just 90 seconds before the final whistle of the first leg of the teams' Western Conference semifinal series. To advance and defend their 2011 MLS Cup title, the Galaxy will have to beat San Jose by two goals in the return leg in the Bay Area on Wednesday (8 p.m. PT, ESPN2).

After Marcelo Sarvas fouled San Jose substitute Simon Dawkins, Earthquakes center back Victor Bernardez delivered a low ball with pace that deflected off the left foot of Galaxy center back Omar Gonzalez and spun just before it reached the Saunders.

He appeared to touch the ball with both hands as he dove left, but a final bounce pushed the ball below his left shoulder and into the net.

The Galaxy disputed the foul call afterward, with forward Landon Donovan saying he suspected referee Ricardo Salazar would "probably say it was a mistake."

"If that's a foul in this game, then there's a hundred fouls," Galaxy coach Bruce Arena said in a testy postgame news conference.

Los Angeles appeared in control for most of the match, never coming particularly close to a goal until the final half-hour but maintaining possession the majority of the time.

"It was never a game you would think that we would lose," Donovan said afterward. "We probably weren't sharp enough in the offensive third of the field, but at worst we thought we'd go up there 0-0 and just have to get a goal."

The two teams have played to some dramatic finishes this season, with a combined 15 goals in three previous matches and a lead change in every one. As is typical for leadoff legs under MLS rules, both teams seemed fairly content to make Wednesday's match the decider.

Now, the Galaxy need a dominating performance from Saunders on Wednesday at Buck Shaw Stadium in Santa Clara and at least two goals from their attack. The Earthquakes lost just one of their 34 regular-season games by two or more goals this year, and none at home.

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CLASICO: Joseph changes the landscape

August, 11, 2012

JosephKyle Rivas/Getty ImagesSharlie Joseph will make his debut for Chivas USA on Sunday night against the Galaxy.

CARSON -- The Galaxy and Chivas USA face off in one of the most meaningful of SuperClasico showdowns, surely the biggest since the 2009 playoffs, and a rivalry first-timer will be playing the wild-card role.

The measure of Shalrie Joseph's impact in his Chivas debut Sunday night (ESPN2 and ESPN Deportes, 8 p.m.) could determine the final regular-season meeting this season, one which could send the Galaxy streaking toward a top-three spot in Major League Soccer's Western Conference or leave the Goats within striking distance -- with games in hand -- in the battle for the West's final postseason berth.

Joseph, 34, was acquired last week in a trade with the New England Revolution, and although the four-time MLS Best XI selection is on the far side of his professional arc, bringing him to L.A. could be be the pivotal step in Robin Fraser's quest to return Chivas to league-power status.

He figures to solidify the Goats' midfield, combine in the middle with Oswaldo Minda in what surely will be MLS's most intimidating central tandem, and provide the link required to connect a fine possession game with a talented frontline that has starved for appropriate service.

“He's a winner, he's a battler ...,” Fraser said. “He's a very intelligent player at both ends of the field. Very solid in the defensive end, certainly very competent and potent at the attacking end. We've seen many times in the past where New England needs something, so they put him up front and he scores a goal. They need him to play in the back, he prevents goals. You need him to connect through the midfield, he does that.

“Bringing him into the mix is certainly going to help.”

Chivas (7-8-5, 26 points) could use some assistance. It has scored just 14 times in 20 games, by far the worst total in the league, and sits just seven points behind L.A. (10-11-3, 33 points) on the other side of the dividing line for a playoff spot because of defense that has conceded an MLS-low 21 goals.

“It's about me trying to connect the dots, passing forward, trying to get the ball to the talented guys ...,” Joseph said. “I just find it unbelievable they haven't been able to score so many goals. World-class forwards they have here. So I look forward to getting them the balls in [dangerous] situations.”

The Grenada-born, Brooklyn-bred Joseph is certainly a known quantity. He spent nearly a decade with the Revolution, some of that as captain, and led the club to four MLS Cup title games. He likely would have been a starting midfielder for the U.S. in the 2002, 2006 and 2010 World Cups had he not impatiently turned out for his native island's national team when he was younger.

The Galaxy, who look to bounce back from last week's 4-0 debacle at Seattle without David Beckham, who is in London for the Olympic Closing Ceremonies, certainly know what Joseph can do. Left back Todd Dunivant calls him “one of the best defensive mids, if not the best, in the history of the league,” and head coach Bruce Arena predicts “in time he's going to be able to reshape their midfield.”

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David Beckham not where he should be

August, 2, 2012

CARSON, Calif. -- David Beckham says he's happy to be back in Los Angeles.

He's happy to be back home with his wife and kids. He's happy to be back with his Los Angeles Galaxy teammates. He's happy to be enjoying the Olympics in London, like the rest of America, on tape delay from the comfort of his living room.

But you can tell he's not really happy, and he has every right to feel that way.

On Thursday night, Beckham was on the field at the Home Depot Center to take on his former team, Real Madrid, in front of 30,317, the largest soccer crowd ever at the stadium. It was, as expected, a lopsided affair that Madrid won 5-1. Beckham set up the Galaxy’s only goal with a picture-perfect serve off a free kick that went off the head of David Junior Lopes and past Real Madrid goalkeeper Iker Casillas.

Beckham, however, should be in England, preparing for Great Britain’s quarterfinal match against South Korea on Saturday.

After all, Beckham was instrumental in bringing the Olympics to London, calling it "one of the proudest moments I've been involved with." Giving one of the most famous and influential figures in English sports history a spot on the 18-man roster seemed like the right thing to do. Given the way Beckham, 37, has been playing of late, few would have seen it as a courtesy gesture. Beckham had every right to be on the team for on- and off-the-field reasons.

That is, of course, not how Great Britain manager Stuart Pearce felt in June when he opted to fill the three over-23 slots on his team with Liverpool's Craig Bellamy, Manchester City's Micah Richards and Manchester United's Ryan Giggs, who will turn 39 in November.

"Of course, I'm disappointed, but life goes on," Beckham said. "My family is healthy, I'm pretty healthy, so at the end of the day, I'll be there to support the Great Britain team."

Instead of being an Olympian at the Summer Games he helped attract to his country, Beckham played a central figure in last week’s opening ceremonies and will again play a part in the closing ceremonies. He helped bring the torch to the Olympic Stadium while wearing one of his custom suits and driving a speed boat, in a scene that looked straight out of a James Bond film.

"I was out on the boat for a few hours, so it was good," Beckham said. "I had a few days during the week so I was prepared. It was good times. … Obviously being an East End boy and growing up there, having the Olympics in that part of London is a very proud moment for us all. But it was a great experience being part of it, being part of such a historic moment for England. It was special."

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Galaxy brand keeps on growing

July, 24, 2012

Galaxy/TottenhamRic Tapia/Getty ImagesWith players like Robbie Keane, above, coming to play for the Galaxy, it has helped raised the team's profile.

CARSON, Calif. -- The mission had been accomplished long before the teams even took the field Tuesday night.

The final score was irrelevant to the larger goals for the Los Angeles Galaxy, which, if you must know, played to a 1-1 draw against Tottenham Hotspur of the English Premier League in front of a near sellout crowd at the Home Depot Center.

As nice as it was to see an undermanned Galaxy team (playing without David Beckham and Landon Donovan) hold their own against a Tottenham side, which finished fourth in the English Premier League last season, the Galaxy’s goal have always been larger than one game, one player and one country.

The vision of Tim Leiweke, president and CEO of AEG, has always been to make the Galaxy a global brand that would be easily recognizable around the world. He wanted fans to be familiar with the Galaxy and be able to rattle off two or three players on the team no matter what continent they were on.

It was a lofty goal, especially considering Major League Soccer’s place in the global soccer landscape and soccer’s place in the United States’ sporting pecking order.

Yet, five years after Beckham arrived in Los Angeles, Leiweke’s dream for the Galaxy has come true.

When Tottenham arrived in Los Angeles on Saturday to play the first of three exhibition matches in the U.S., they didn’t come for a sun-kissed vacation on the beach and to walk over an unknown side filled with unfamiliar players.

Everyone on Tottenham was quite familiar with the Galaxy and their surging status in the soccer world. It began when the Galaxy signed Beckham in 2007 but for many who play at White Hart Lane it grew when Los Angeles signed their old friend and teammate Robbie Keane last year.

Keane played at Tottenham from 2002 to 2011 with a brief stint at Liverpool in 2008 and still captains the Ireland national team.

“A lot more players overseas know about the MLS now,” said Tottenham winger Gareth Bale, who scored a first half goal on Tuesday.

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SUPERCLASICO: Big guns lead explosive Galaxy

July, 21, 2012

CARSON -- The Galaxy are deep into their transition from woeful underachievers to Major League Soccer title contenders, and although the cast of contributors is steadily growing -- just like last year -- it's the three Designated Players who have made the difference.

It was so again Saturday night, when L.A. pounded archrival Chivas USA, 3-1, as Landon Donovan scored a pair of goals, Robbie Keane added another plus an assist, and David Beckham picked up two assists in front of 25,180 at Home Depot Center.

The Galaxy (9-10-3, 30 points) have won six of nine games since returning in mid-June from Major League Soccer's three-week World Cup qualifying break -- they probably should have won the three they didn't -- to cement their hold on fifth place in the Western Conference, building a seven-point cushion on the Goats (6-8-5, 23 points) and eight on Colorado (7-13-1, 22 points). Fifth place, of course, gets the final playoff berth.

“We're getting there,” said Donovan, who netted his eighth and ninth goals of the season and his sixth and seventh in the past nine games. “We've gotten better and better. ... I think we're getting there. I think we're starting to figure out what combination of guys on the field play well together and work well, and a lot of guys are doing a lot of dirty work to make plays so that the few of us can just focus on getting in front of the goal and scoring.”

The Galaxy has 22 goals in their last eight games after scoring just 16 in their first 14, and Donovan, Keane and Beckham have scored 17 of them (with 12 assists, too). They're more explosive than they were at any point in last year's championship run, and if the defensive lapses can be conquered -- Omar Gonzalez saw his second action of the season, a real plus in this regard -- L.A. might be the team to beat again come November.

Keane scored in the 14th minute from a Beckham through ball, netted another six minutes later from Donovan's through ball -- that one was waved off by an offside call that replays suggested was in error -- then fed Donovan's sprint for the second goal three minutes into the second half. Donovan, who twice hit posts, secured all three points from a scramble following a Beckham corner kick in the 78th minute.

“I think [Keane and Donovan] combined for a number of opportunities tonight and were outstanding, and certainly David as well with that group ...” Galaxy coach Bruce Arena said. “We're scoring an awful lot of goals [with Donovan partnering Keane at forward], right? It's been pretty damn good. It really has.”

Former Galaxy midfielder Paolo Cardozo scored his first MLS goal in the 52nd minute for Chivas, firing just inside the right post from the top of the box with L.A. goalkeeper Josh Saunders screened from the shot. Chivas had more chances, but none of them particularly dangerous.

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Galaxy, Chivas on a roll heading into SuperClasico

July, 20, 2012
CARSON -- The Galaxy and Chivas USA meet up in the second SuperClasico of the season on something of a roll, and Saturday night's showdown at Home Depot Center is clearly the most important meeting in the rivalry since L. A. captured the 2009 playoff series.

The Galaxy (8-10-3) have won five of eight games since returning in mid-June from a three-week break, and they ought not to have lost the two games they've dropped in the span. Their resurgence, following a dreadful first 2 1/2 months, is all about the big names: David Beckham, Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane.

Chivas (6-7-5) has lost only one of its last nine league games, posted three straight shutouts -- the Rojiblancos haven't surrendered a goal in 318 minutes -- and gone 6-2-5 since mid-May, including the run to the U.S. Open Cup semifinals.

The rivals sit fifth and sixth in the Western Conference, separated by four points on the boundary for playoff berths, and every conference encounter can be a six-point swing.

Here's a look at the 27th SuperClasico showdown, Saturday at 7 p.m. at Home Depot Center in Carson:

CURRENT FORM: There's been a lot of good and a bit of bad in both teams' recent performances. They're getting results, but Chivas USA's attack is toothless, and the Galaxy has taken to outscoring opponents, or at least trying to, which leads to some grossly entertaining encounters.

L.A. just picked up seven points in a three-game road swing, and they've come from behind for three wins and a tie in the past month. Two Beckham goals fueled last weekend's 5-3 romp over Portland, and 18-year-old rookie Jose Villarreal, from Inglewood, came off the bench to score a terrific 87th-minute goal to deliver a 2-2 draw Wednesday night at Portland.

Reigning MLS Defender of the Year Omar Gonzalez's absence because of a torn anterior cruciate ligament has been debilitating all season. He returned to action in the July 4 loss to Philadelphia but hasn't played since, complaining of pain in his surgically repaired right knee.

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David Beckham scored for the Los Angeles Galaxy as they rallied for a 2-2 road draw with the Vancouver Whitecaps.

Robbie Keane and David Beckham scored two goals apiece in the Galaxy's 5-3 road win over the Timbers in Portland.

Lampard to Galaxy? 'Nothing to that'

July, 9, 2012

Frank Lampard's rumored move to the Galaxy isn't happening, he told English media, claiming his time in L.A. was just vacation.

Chelsea's star midfielder watched L.A.'s Fourth of July loss to Philadelphia from a Home Depot Center luxury box with suspended David Beckham amid reports he'd been offered a two-year contract worth $20 million to join the Galaxy. He's been linked to the club since last year.

“There's nothing in that at all,” he told The Sun, a British tabloid. “I'm here in Los Angeles on holiday with Christine [Bleakley, my fiancee]. We got engaged here last year, and we love it over here. [Agent Steve Kutner is] over here on music and football business. He organized a box so we could go to see the Galaxy game.

“Becks was suspended for the match, so he came and sat with us, and we had a good laugh -- that's all.”

Lampard, 34, has a contract with the European champions through next summer, and he said he was “really looking forward to getting back to Chelsea” after missing Euro 2012 with a thigh strain. “Maybe missing the Euros was a blessing in disguise for me. I had a full summer off, and I'm ready to go back to start the hard work for the new season.”

GALAXY: Keane, defense worth 3 points

July, 8, 2012

Galaxy/FireJonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesOn a day when Landon Donovan and David Beckham made the All-Star Game, it was Robbie Keane's two goals that led L.A.

Robbie Keane celebrated his 32nd birthday Sunday with two goals to end a two-game Galaxy skid and restore some of the momentum from that three-game run a couple of weeks ago.

The Irishman might have had a third, but two was more than enough for L.A., which again channeled last year's model in grinding out a 2-0 Major League Soccer victory at Chicago to climb back to fifth place in the Western Conference.

It was all about defense, and the Galaxy (7-10-2, 23 points)-- its usual back four on the field, Omar Gonzalez sent to the bench -- gave its finest defensive performance of the season, keeping things tight at the back and eliminating space for the Fire's vibrant attack, then took its chances well.

“It was a good win ...,” head coach Bruce Arena told media at Toyota Park. “I think we had a good plan coming into the game, and we played pretty solid for 90 minutes. It wasn’t our best game, but it was good enough for three points. But it was a good effort by the group.”

The Galaxy was without David Beckham, serving the second game of a suspension, and Landon Donovan started on the bench after picking up a hamstring strain in Wednesday's loss to Philadelphia, but they prospered through Keane's strikes -- his fifth and sixth goals of the season -- and two superb second-half saves by Josh Saunders.

Keane wasn't particularly sharp, but he drew a questionable first-half penalty to give the Galaxy the lead and finished after some superb work by Donovan in midfield for the second goal with a dozen minutes plus stoppage to play, and that was enough.

“You get the ball to that guy anywhere near the goal, he's going to score more often than not,” said Donovan, who was a spark after coming off the bench in the 65th minute.

Keane converted a 24th-minute penalty kick, firing in off the right post, after his cross from just left of Chicago's box caught defender Jalil Anibaba's hand on the edge of the box. It was clearly an infraction, but Anibaba's arm might have been outside the box when contact was made.

The Fire had more of the ball -- 60 percent possession -- and managed 14 shots and 10 corner kicks, but they couldn't create space for speedy forward Dominic Oduro, who departed after 66 frustrating minutes, nor winger Patrick Nyarko. The shutout was L.A.'s third in the past six games.

“They're good attacking players, and we're certainly aware of their speed,” Arena said. “What your trying to do is keep them in front of you as much as you can. I think our backline did a good job for the most part.”

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Beckham, Donovan make All-Star list

July, 8, 2012

David Beckham and Landon Donovan won the fans' vote for Major League Soccer's All-Star First XI, the first step in selecting the team that will take on European champion Chelsea later this month in Chester, Pa.

MLS on Sunday announced the first 11 players, selected in a 4-4-2 formation, and the list includes New York Red Bulls star Thierry Henry, San Jose striker Chris Wondolowski and reigning league MVP Dwayne De Rosario from D.C. United.

Chivas USA goalkeeper Dan Kennedy lost out to Sporting Kansas City's Jimmy Nielsen for the First XI goalkeeper slot but was among seven players MLS cited as being “close to the leading vote-getters at their positions.”

The First XI is not the starting lineup, merely the first 11 players chosen for the team. Commissioner Don Garber has two selections and D.C. United coach Ben Olsen, who will guide the MLS side in the July 25 match, will fill out the remainder of the 18-man game roster, with the announcement of their picks scheduled for next Sunday. Olsen will determine his starters from the 18.

Fourteen additional players will be announced July 25 as all-stars, per the MLS Players Union's Collective Bargaining Agreement with the league, but none will be eligible to play.

Donovan is a 12-time All-Star selection, and Beckham is making his third appearance on the list. Beckham's availability is uncertain; he might be in London for the Olympics, which begin July 25.

Sporting Kansas City placed three players on the First XI, with defender Aurelien Collin and midfielder Graham Zusi joining Nielsen. Former Chivas USA defender Heath Pearce is the second Red Bull on the list, and San Jose also has a second player, defender Steven Beitashour.

Here is the First XI:

Jimmy Nielsen (Sporting Kansas City), Denmark, second All-Star appearance

Steven Beitashour (San Jose Earthquakes), U.S., first
Aurelien Collin (Sporting Kansas City), France, first
Jay DeMerit (Vancouver Whitecaps), U.S., first
Heath Pearce (New York Red Bulls), U.S., first

David Beckham (Galaxy), England, third
Dwayne De Rosario (D.C. United, Canada, seventh
Landon Donovan (Galaxy), U.S., 12th
Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City), U.S., first

Thierry Henry (New York Red Bulls), France, second
Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes), U.S., second

GALAXY: Fire offer Gonzalez a test

July, 7, 2012

Jack McInerney, Omar GonzalezVictor Decolongon/Getty ImagesIt's not certain if Omar Gonzalez, right, will start against Chicago on Saturday after playing 45 minutes Wednesday.

Omar Gonzalez wasn't supposed to be back in the Galaxy lineup until September, maybe August. Maybe, best-case scenario, late July.

So his rapid-fire move from full training (with teammates not fully challenging him) to 45 mostly do-nothing minutes against the club's Academy players to activation from the MLS Disabled List to the Fourth of July starting lineup was somewhat of a surprise.

There had been hints: He was said to be advancing rapidly in his rehabilitation from the torn anterior cruciate ligament he sustained in January, and AEG President Tim Leiweke teased at an event in mid-March that the reigning MLS Defender of the Year would be back sooner than expected.

Gonzalez got 45 solid minutes in Wednesday's loss against Philadelphia and could be back in the starting XI for Saturday afternoon's game at Chicago, a pivotal clash after back-to-back losses following that eye-opening three-game winning streak.

The Fire (8-5-4), who won three in a row and then claimed a point at Houston, are among Major League Soccer's swiftest and most talented attacking sides, and theirs is a challenge Gonzalez might not yet be ready for.

He didn't have a whole lot to do in his first-half appearance against Philadelphia, so his time was more about getting reacquainted to the game than taking command of a backline that has missed his dearly.

“It was kind of nice [not to be tested],” an ebullient Gonzalez said after the game. “[Philadelphia] decided to sit back a little bit and just kind of go for the counterattack, and we had everything locked down pretty good.”

He said could've played “like 10 more minutes, but we decided to stick to the plan ... you don't want to play too many minutes. This is sort of a kind of progression, so this game I got 45 minutes. Maybe next game I get 60 and you go from there.”

Gonzalez is the most talented and one of the biggest (at 6 feet 5), most physical and, certainly last year, most savvy center backs in MLS, and L.A. has struggled defensively without him. There are other processes at work there, but his absence -- and the impact of that absence on confidence -- has been the defining element of a poor first half to the season.

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GALAXY: Omar's return not nearly enough

July, 4, 2012

A.J. DeLaGarzaJayne Kamin-Oncea/US PresswireA.J. DeLaGarza reacts to a first-half call, one of many frustrating moments for the Galaxy in a loss.

CARSON -- Omar Gonzalez was back on the field, and the Galaxy so dominated portions of the action Wednesday night that they should have been fairly certain of a victory well before halftime arrived.

Those were the pluses from the annual Fourth of July festivities at Home Depot Center, but they were greatly outnumbered by all that went wrong: squandered chances, defensive breakdowns, an inability to close out halves.

It all added up to a 2-1 loss to Philadelphia that, following last weekend's collapse against San Jose, has all but erased the glowing memories of the three-game winning streak that suggested the old Galaxy, the championship Galaxy, was back.

SoCal boy Michael Farfan set up one goal and scored the other, netting the winner five minutes into second-half stoppage, to give the Union (4-9-2, 14 points) their first win in five meetings with L.A. (6-10-2, 20 points), which kept pace with fifth-place Colorado in the Western Conference but lost ground to Real Salt Lake, Seattle and Vancouver, which sit second through fourth.

“The reality is we should be five wins in a row right now, and now we find ourselves behind the eight-ball a little bit again,” captain Landon Donovan said. “It's difficult to take, but the reality is now it's over. We can either moan about it or we can wake up tomorrow morning and get ready for [Sunday's game at] Chicago.”

The Galaxy created more than a half-dozen outstanding chances but managed to stick just one of them, Chad Barrett's 73rd-minute equalizer after Robbie Keane got the slightest of touches to a feed from Todd Dunivant. It wasn't nearly enough.

Keane ought to have had a hat trick in the first 25 minutes, David Junior Lopes hit the crossbar in the second half, and had David Beckham not been stuck in a luxury box -- next to Chelsea's Frank Lampard, rumored to be in L.A.'s sights -- following his foolish red card in the loss to San Jose, the Galaxy might have gotten something out of two late, close-range free kicks, one of them in the semicircle.

Keane's first two chances -- after pushing through two defenders at the top of the box, then beating goalkeeper Zac MacMath on the dribble in the fourth minute, then after stepping past MacMath to the left of the net in the 11th -- were cleared off the goal line, by Carlos Valdes and then Sheanon Williams. His third, a blast inside the box in the 25th, was parried by MacMath, who faced 16 shots but had to make just four saves.

“We gave the game away,” head coach Bruce Arena said. “That's a game we should have walked away comfortably with three points, in my opinion. Too many chances in the first half that were wasted. Poor concentration at the end of the first half cost us a goal. And just an extremely poor effort at the end of the game to get exposed and to give up the point we worked so hard to get.”

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