Los Angeles Soccer: Emilio Renteria
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The Galaxy were going to be very pleased to escape Crew Stadium with a draw Saturday night, especially after the onslaught they withstood over the final frightful minutes.
Then they demonstrated, again, why they're Major League Soccer's premier club.
In the matter of seconds, a midfield header fed a Landon Donovan volley, the rebound fell to Chad Barrett, and his volley in the third minute of stoppage turned a scoreless tie into a most improbable 1-0 triumph over the Columbus Crew.
And it also might have settled the Supporters' Shield race.
The Galaxy, with a makeshift lineup missing David Beckham, Robbie Keane and, until the 62nd minute, Donovan, gave a game effort but needed some late magic to claim their 17th victory, maintain a seven-point lead in the Western Conference and create an opportunity, with just a little aid, to clinch the regular-season trophy next weekend with a victory at Home Depot Center over Real Salt Lake.
It required another huge game from goalkeeper Josh Saunders, a save on the goal line by Michael Stephens, some heady play by homecoming king Frankie Hejduk and Barrett's finish at the end.
“Let me tell you,” head coach Bruce Arena said, “between the 85th and 92nd [minutes], if you tell me would you take a point, I would have gladly taken it.”
Barrett, who came off the bench in the 84th minute, overshadowed a superb performance by another second-half substitute, Emilio Renteria, who spearheaded a Crew attack that created eight scoring chances -- to none by L.A. -- between the 70th and 90th minutes and was unfortunate not to find the net.
Saunders made five superb stops, the two best on Andres Mendoza, and Stephens kept out a Chad Marshall header from a corner kick that beat Saunders in the 48th minute -- the play of the game before Barrett's strike.
“Sometimes I'm there to save it, sometimes they're their to save it,” Saunders said. “I can't say enough about his concentration on the play. Calm and collected, and just played the ball away.”
Arena, coming off a tough CONCACAF Champions League loss three nights earlier in Costa Rica and facing a must-win clash with Mexico's Morelia on Wednesday in the regional championship, heavily rotated his lineup. Beckham headed home to L.A. after the team arrived Thursday in Columbus, Keane was kept out with a strained gluteal muscle, and iron-man left back Todd Dunivant was given a rest, his first minutes off all season.
Donovan and first-choice midfielder Mike Magee also started on the bench, although both came on in the second half.
AP Photo/Jack Dempsey
Pablo Mastroeni and his Colorado teammates celebrate the game's only goal against the Crew.
IN BRIEF: Colorado's first-half dominance paid off with a nifty goal, and the Rapids held off Columbus' late charge to open Major League Soccer's postseason with a 1-0 victory.
BEST PLAYER: It was never a secret that the key player in this series would be speedy Rapids forward Omar Cummings, and he repeatedly tore apart the Crew's backline to run onto balls out of the midfield, most from strike partner Conor Casey and from Brian Mullan. He found space primarily on the right wing, slicing between big UC Santa Barbara alum Andy Iro and rookie left back Shaun Francis, then firing across the face of the goal or delivering dangerous balls for, primarily, Casey. He set up one goal and was unfortunate not to produce more.
BEST GOAL: There was just one, in the 23rd minute, and it told the story of the game. Two quick passes out of midfield, the second a defense-splitting pass from Mullan to Cummings on the right flank, and the Jamaican forward sent in a low cross toward the goalmouth. Casey dragged Crew defender Chad Marshall (Riverside/Rubidoux HS) to the near post, then got a back-heel touch to the ball, helping it to the far post for Pablo Mastroeni, who raced in ahead of Robbie Rogers (Palos Verdes and Huntington Beach/Mater Dei HS) for the last touch.
Until it cleared up so nicely on Saturday, Major League Soccer’s playoff scenarios were complicated, to be sure. The Galaxy might have ended up with a first-round series with Colorado or San Jose or FC Dallas; that they’ll face Seattle is fine with them.
Not that it’s perfect.
“Seattle’s not going to be easy. It never is,” Galaxy coach Bruce Arena said after Sunday’s victory over FC Dallas set up encounters with the Sounders on Sunday in Seattle and Nov. 7 at Home Depot Center. “But I think the choices were … what were the choices? I think they were Dallas … none of the choices were real good, to be honest. I wouldn’t want to be going into Dallas either.
“I do prefer going to Seattle than going into altitude. There was always a chance at some point we could go to Colorado or Salt Lake, and the altitude is an issue, and the one thing we’ve assured ourselves is that we’re not going to be playing in altitude. Not that guarantees anything, but I think that’s good. It’s a lot easier for the players to adjust to the artificial field [in Seattle] than to altitude. So In think that’s a positive out of this.”
Perhaps so. If L.A. and Real Salt Lake win their first-round series, they’ll meet in Carson. Toronto, where MLS Cup will be played Nov. 21, has a lower elevation than downtown L.A. But the Galaxy are hardly happy they’ll start their home-and-home, total-goals series on the fake turf at Qwest Field.
“I don’t like it,” said Edson Buddle, who led the Galaxy with 17 goals. “I’m not a big fan. I never was. But I have to deal with that and get over it.”
Said David Beckham: “At the end of the day, it is what it is. We have to go there, and we have to play. It’s the same for both teams. Obviously, it’s an advantage for them, because they play on it every other week, but it is what it is.”