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.”
Wondolowski called it “a statement win.”
“[The Galaxy has] been playing great soccer as of late, and we knew they would come out firing ...,” he said. “I don’t want to say we like coming back from two-goal deficits, but if it results in three points, I’ll take it every time.”
Yorba Linda's Steven Lenhart finished a seventh-minute rebound after Galaxy goalkeeper Josh Saunders knocked down Marvin Chavez's wobbly shot from above the box, giving San Jose (11-3-3, 36 points) its earliest lead of the year. The Galaxy (6-9-2, 20 points), which had long spells of superb play in successive victories at Real Salt Lake and over Vancouver, looked flat most of the first half-hour, then got three quick breaks to take a 3-1 lead.
The first, after Chavez fouled Mike Magee at the edge of San Jose's box, naturally came from Beckham, who put a 21-yard free kick over the wall and into the upper-left corner. Goalkeeper Jon Busch didn't bother to move. Five minutes later, quick passes from Beckham and Magee fed Hector Jimenez near the right post. He tried to feed across the goalmouth to Donovan, but the ball went off Hernandez and inside the right post.
Hernandez made a far greater error on the third goal. Under pressure from Jimenez after a long ball from Beckham was headed to the edge of the box, The third goal, the former Chivas USA center back wheeled around and played the ball back for Busch. Magee, the target for that Beckham ball, was standing right at the 6-yard box -- the pass went right to his feet. He played it wide for Jimenez, and Donovan blasted home the second pass.
Bernardez got his goal in the 44th minute, and Busch made a brilliant diving save on Magee about midway through seven minutes of stoppage to keep the Quakes within a goal.
“The goal before halftime really hurt us,” Donovan said. “We fell asleep on the set piece, and they made us pay, and that gave them some momentum going into the half. ... And then we didn't start well the second half.”
Cronin's run from midfield, with Juninho failing to adequately trail him, provided the tying goal in the 47th minute -- he poked Steven Beitashour's tremendous, bending drive from within Quakes territory into L.A.'s box (with Lenhart dummying nicely) past the onrushing Saunders.
Wondolowski turned in Chavez's corner kick, flicked on in front of the near post by Ramiro Corrales, for the winner. It was his 14th goal of the season and 48th in the past 2½ months.
There were plenty more chances at both ends. Saunders came up huge with back-to-back-to-back stops on Wondolowski, Lawndale's Rafael Baca and Wondolowski again in the 52nd minute. David Junior Lopes hit the crossbar with a little chip in the 85th -- the ball dropped in front of the net, but Chad Barrett couldn't bundle it home, and Lopes' attempt at the right post was blocked by Justin Morrow.
The Galaxy also thought they deserved penalties in the 54th minute, when a Todd Dunivant drive struck Bernardez in the face, and in the 84th, when a Sean Franklin blast off a Beckham corner kick struck Cronin in the goalmouth. Referee Hilario Grajeda thought otherwise; replays were inconclusive but suspicious.
The game ended messily. Beckham, who learned this week he would not play for Great Britain's Olympic team, the chief dream remaining in his storied career, picked up a stoppage-time caution, and a suspension for yellow-card accumulation, after stupidly kicking two balls from the left wing at Grajeda and Cronin, who was down in San Jose's box after a collision.
The second ball hit Grajeda and Cronin, bringing out the yellow -- that means he misses the Fourth of July clash against Philadelphia at Home Depot Center -- and the infraction is serious enough to warrant a fine and addition suspension. Magee was suspended after receiving a yellow card for throwing a ball in the direction of referee Silviu Petrescu in the May 26 loss at Houston. Beckham's behavior was more egregious.
Then after the final whistle, Beckham confronted San Jose's Khari Stephenson and had to pulled away several times by teammates -- at one point, San Jose's mascot got caught in the scrum -- and then, after separated, tried to have a go at an unidentified Earthquake.
The Galaxy said is was all frustration boiling over: the hand balls that weren't called, San Jose's “time-wasting” while Cronin was sitting, disgust over Grajeda's handling of the match.
“Obviously, the referee had no clue what was going on,” Arena said. “All they were doing [when Cronin was down] was delaying the game. I don't think the officiating was good. There were a couple hand balls in the penalty area. He did a poor job managing the game.
“The reason there was that disturbance at the end of the game, I think, is because he didn't take control of things. Two competing teams, and things boiled over. I thought the management of the game by the referee was atrocious.”
If so, it's still no excuse. As Donovan noted: “We've got to be better about keeping our heads in that situation, for sure.”
MLS did nothing when Beckham lambasted referees earlier this season, an act that would have drawn a fine from anyone else. His postgame actions added to the ball-kicking ought to add up to three or four games. That would keep him out until the July 21 SuperClasico, if the league has the guts to do it.
WORTH NOTING: Donovan's goal was his 121st in Major League Soccer's regular season, 13 behind all-time leader Jeff Cunningham and 12 behind Jaime Moreno. ... The Galaxy has surrendered 27 goals in 17 MLS games, half a season. Last year they gave up 28 goals for the full 34-game campaign. ... The Quakes used to be the Galaxy's No. 1 rival, before the first version moved to Houston and Chivas USA arrived. This game signals the “the rivalry is back,” Dunivant said. “I mean, both teams are competitive for the championship again, and I think that is a big part of it.” ... Busch suffered an eye injury making the first-half stoppage-time save on Magee and departed at halftime. ... Arena fielded the same lineup from last week's win over Vancouver, with the same seven players on the bench, too. ... Corrales also picked up a suspension with his fifth yellow card of the season.
MAJOR LEAGUE SOCCER
Stanford Stadium (Stanford, Calif.)
San Jose Earthquakes 4, Galaxy 3
SJ -- Steven Lenhart 7
LA -- David Beckham 31
LA -- og Jason Hernandez 36
LA -- Landon Donovan (Hector Jimenez, Mike Magee) 41
SJ -- Victor Bernardez (Marvin Chavez 44)
SJ -- Sam Cronin (Steven Beitashour) 47
SJ -- Chris Wondolowski (Ramiro Corrales, Marvin Chavez) 61
San Jose Earthquakes: Jon Busch (David Bingham, 46); Steven Beitashour, Victor Bernardez, Jason Hernandez, Justin Morrow; Marvin Chavez (Khari Stephenson, 88), Sam Cronin, Rafael Baca, Ramiro Corrales; Chris Wondolowski, Steven Lenhart (Alan Gordon, 68). Unused subs: Tressor Moreno, Brad Ring, Shea Salinas, Jed Zayner.
Galaxy: Josh Saunders; Sean Franklin, David Junior Lopes, A.J. DeLaGarza, Todd Dunivant (Bryan Gaul, 83); Hector Jimenez (Marcelo Sarvas, 81), David Beckham, Juninho, Mike Magee (Chad Barrett, 74); Landon Donovan, Robbie Keane. Unused subs: Bryan Jordan, Tommy Meyer, Brian Perk, Michael Stephens.
Yellow cards: Juninho 24, Corrales 27, Lenhart 46+, Bernardez 51+, Lopes 86, Beckham 93+.
Referee: Hilario Grajeda. Att.: 50,391.
Records: San Jose 10-3-3, 33 points; Galaxy 6-8-2, 20 points.