Los Angeles Soccer: Jason Hernandez
The wildest and weirdest of California Clasicos unfolded just as the Galaxy hoped, at least after an early hiccup, and exactly as the San Jose Earthquakes might have expected -- and desired.
Three goals in 11 minutes, two of them caused by Jason Hernandez errors, gave L.A. a two-goal edge just before halftime, and the way the Galaxy have been playing lately, that ought to be enough against nearly anyone in Major League Soccer.
But this Earthquakes side increasingly has the look of destiny about it, and given what's come before, its comeback for a 4-3 triumph Saturday night at sold-out Stanford Stadium was persuasive.
Victor Bernardez blasted home a feed from a corner kick near the end of the first half, Sam Cronin finished a spectacular sequence to start the second half, and MLS scoring leader Chris Wondolowski's backheel from a corner kick in the 61st minute delivered San Jose its seventh comeback victory of the year.
It spoiled the Galaxy's best 10 minutes or so of the season and restored the Quakes' spot atop MLS's Supporters' Shield standings, which had been taken by D.C. United with a victory earlier in the day.
It was an absorbing match, probably the best in the league this season, marked by end-to-end action, huge shifts in momentum, sudden chances enhanced by a tight field, goals both brilliant and unfortunate, tremendous atmosphere (some 50,391 on hand), and a end-of-game meltdown by David Beckham, whose nightmare week closed with a one-game suspension certain and additional games likely to be added.
“It was enjoyable to be part of, for the most part,” Galaxy captain Landon Donovan told media afterward. “I thought the crowd was great, the energy was great, and it's just 20 some-off people in here [in L.A.'s locker room] who aren't happy. ... It's a game we should have won.”
Coach Bruce Arena agreed with the last part.
“It was a sloppy game, a lot of mishaps,” he said. “Kind of what we expected on a tight, short field. ... We did a poor job [defensively] today. Our defense on set pieces wasn't good, and it cost us the game.
“We have no one to blame. We should not lose that game.”
CARSON -- The Galaxy couldn't have felt much better about things as the clock hit 75 minutes Wednesday night: Their best performance of the season had been rewarded with a two-goal lead, and although they were down to 10 men, they were in control. Hold on another 15 minutes, plus a few more in stoppage, and they'd have their first victory in a month.
But in a season in which nearly everything that can go wrong has, L.A. found a new, most devastating way to fall, surrendering three goals over the final 20 minutes -- the last deep in stoppage -- to drop its fourth game in the last five, a 3-2 defeat to the San Jose Earthquakes that left a lot of heads shaking.
Alan Gordon's header in the 94th minute delivered the knockout blow, handing the Galaxy their seventh league defeat, extending their winless streak to six games and leaving them in the Western Conference basement, 16 points off the lead.
“We played awful well tonight not to get something out of this game. It's a shame,” noted Galaxy coach Bruce Arena. “You make your own breaks, and tonight we were in position to get three points and really turned that game over.”
Bell Gardens' Hector Jimenez, making just his second MLS start, third league appearance and 2012 debut, scored a fine goal in the third minute to give L.A. an advantage but was sent off for a studs-up challenge on Steven Beitashour in the 59th minute, and the Galaxy (3-7-2, 11 points) -- dominant to that point -- watched everything change in a matter of minutes.
First, they doubled their lead, with Mike Magee taking a pass on the break from David Beckham, then beating Quakes defender Jason Hernandez and stepping past goalkeeper Jon Busch to fire into the goal's ceiling in the 73rd minute.
Three minutes later, Yorba Linda's Steven Lenhart got one back for San Jose, a near-post header from Marvin Chavez's corner kick, and the Quakes were on the front foot the rest of the way.
“We're ahead 2-0, I don't know how many minutes left,” Arena said. “Really a poor tactical approach on our behalf. We shouldn't get beat on a restart for a goal. That let them back in the game. And we can't lose the ball in our defensive half. We have to play the ball up the field, we have to pull in collectively as a group and defend with our 10 players and play the game out, get the three points and go home.”
Khari Stephenson tied the score in the 82nd minute, converting a penalty kick after Beckham handled the ball while leaping to block a drive by Hernandez. A turnover led to the winner, with Hernandez again pumping the ball into the box and Gordon, who scored equalizers in the 88th and 90th minutes of San Jose's last two games, escaped Sean Franklin's mark and soared above A.J. DeLaGarza to nod it into the net.
“I just was following up the play,” said Gordon, who played for the Galaxy from 2004 through 2010. “I think there may have been a little bit of hesitation on their part, and I was just seeing the play through. They hesitated, I didn't, I finished it. Forwards get lucky sometimes. I got lucky. Who cares? I put it in, end of story, period.”
The San Jose Earthquakes arrived Sunday for a week of training at Oxnard College, and they've got scrimmages planned against Chivas USA, the Galaxy and the Ventura County Fusion.
The Quakes meet Chivas on Monday afternoon at Home Depot Center Field 4, west of the main stadium. They'll face the Galaxy on Thursday at the HDC track and field stadium and take on the Premier Development League's Fusion on Friday at Oxnard College.
Here's a quick look at the Earthquakes:
WHO ARE THEY?
The Galaxy's former No. 1 rival, before Chivas USA arrived and MLS's original Clash/Quakes hightailed it to Houston after the 2005 season. This model returned to MLS in 2008, with Oakland A's owner Lew Wolff (encouraged by super soccer fan/A's GM Billy Beane) putting up the money, former star center back John Doyle as GM and the return of coach Frank Yallop, who guided the previous Quakes to MLS titles in 2001 and 2003. They reached the playoffs last year, knocking off Eastern Conference champ New York to make it to the MLS Cup semifinals.
THE MAN IN CHARGE
Yallop is no stranger to these parts. The English-born Canadian former defender was the Galaxy's head coach the last part of 2006 and during that wasted 2007 campaign, unfairly jettisoned afterward with the Quakes asking for his hand.
Yallop, who's one of the really good guys in MLS, spent 13 seasons with Ipswich Town, played in Tampa Bay in the first three MLS seasons, then worked for the Mutiny and then at D.C. United before taking over in San Jose in 2001. After three seasons and two MLS Cup titles, he became Canada's national team coach, a post he left for the Galaxy job after failing to qualify for the 2006 World Cup.
THE STAR PLAYER
The closest thing San Jose has to a star is forward/midfielder Chris Wondolowski, who burst into everyone's consciousness last year (his sixth in MLS) with 18 goals, 10 of them in the final eight games, to swipe the Golden Boot from L.A.'s Edson Buddle on the final day of the season.
A look at Saturday's Eastern Conference final:IN BRIEF: Colorado reached its second MLS Cup final -- its first in 13 years -- with a deserved 1-0 triumph over visiting San Jose in sub-freezing temperatures just outside Denver. … Right back Kosuke Kimura's cross sneaked into the net in the 43rd minute, but the Rapids would have had more if not for another superb performance by Earthquakes goalkeeper Jon Busch. … The Rapids await the winner of the Galaxy-FC Dallas clash in Sunday's Western Conference final at Home Depot Center.
BEST PLAYER: It's Omar Cummings again. The speedy Rapids forward tormented the Quakes with runs through and behind the defense, constantly creating or exploiting space -- had his shot been on, he would have had a hat trick. He doesn't get an assist on Kimura's goal, but he deserves one: His near-post run froze Busch, allowing the in-swinging cross to skip past and inside the far post.
BEST GOAL: There only was one, and, no, it wasn't a work of art, but who cares? Kimura, the only Japanese player in the league, scored his first goal of the campaign -- and just his third in four seasons -- with a sensational cross from the right flank after a throw-in. With Bobby Convey applying pressure, Kimura curled a left-footed ball toward Cummings, who split San Jose's Jason Hernandez and Sam Cronin to get free at the near post. At first, it looked like Cummings got a touch on the ball, sending it past Busch, but replays indicated the cross had sneaked through on its own, and Cummings acknowledged at halftime that he hadn't gotten a piece of it.
BIGGEST STOP: Busch had plenty, including two big stops on Cummings and another on Pablo Mastroeni, but Brazilian forward Geovanni made the biggest, keeping the Quakes in the game by clearing Drew Moor's header from a Wells Thompson corner kick off the line at the right post in the 70th minute.
WORTH NOTING: The Rapids are the third successive crossover finalist. New York, sent to the Western Conference bracket in 2008 after finishing fifth in the East, stunned Houston and Real Salt Lake to reach the MLS Cup final, and Real Salt Lake's title run last year went through the East after a fifth-place finish in the West. Colorado was, naturally, fifth in the West this year. … The Rapids upset Kansas City and Dallas en route to the 1997 MLS Cup final, but lost, 2-1, against D.C. United in front of 57,431 at RFK Stadium in Washington. Jaime Moreno and Tony Sanneh gave D.C., coached by current Galaxy boss Bruce Arena, a two-goal lead, and Adrian Paz got one back in the 75th minute for Colorado.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “I think the goal was maybe a little fortuitous, and he doesn't get on the score sheet all that often. … If there had been a bet on it, you would've had very long odds on Koski scoring the game-winner.” -- Colorado head coach Gary Smith.
at Commerce City, Colo.
Colorado 1 (Kimura 43), San Jose 0
Western Conference final
Sunday: L.A. Galaxy vs. FC Dallas at Home Depot Center, 6 p.m., ESPN and ESPN Deportes
Nov. 21: at Toronto, 5:30 p.m., ESPN and TeleFutura (KFTR/Channel 46)
A look at Saturday's MLS postseason action:IN BRIEF: Two harsh red cards -- one to Real Salt Lake playmaker extraordinaire Javier Morales -- mar FC Dallas' 2-1 comeback triumph captured on former UC Santa Barbara standout Eric Avila's late strike. … New York heads home with a 1-0 advantage after Joel Lindpere lifts the Red Bulls at San Jose.
BEST PLAYER: Lindpere might not get the press that DPs Thierry Henry, Rafa Marquez and Juan Pablo Angel attract, but the Estonian midfielder clearly is the Red Bulls' MVP this year -- and he tormented the Earthquakes in New York's win. He had the lone goal, a superbly placed shot from a tight angle past a diving Jon Busch and inside the right post from a poorly headed clearance, and would've had another had Jason Hernandez not been stationed on the goal line.
BEST GOAL: Two candidates from FC Dallas' victory. Hard to beat Fabian Espindola's blast, from Andy Williams' ball from the midfield stripe, into the upper-left corner to give RSL a fifth-minute lead. But beat it Avila's bender into the left-side netting did. The 88th-minute winner, less than a minute after he came on for Jair Benitez, was a splendid finish to an invigorating clash.