Los Angeles Soccer: Yasser Corona
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.
America is peaking at the best possible time. Toluca is crumbling when it counts. The impact on the Mexican Primera Division's Apertura campaign is massive.
The Aguilas clinched a berth in the eight-team playoff Liguilla with a 1-0 victory at Atlante, courtesy of Matias Vuoso's eighth goal of the season, and head into their final regular-season outing -- against Mexico City rival Pumas UNAM -- with three-game winning and six-game unbeaten streaks.
Pavel Pardo converted a stoppage-time penalty kick against Atlante, but referee Paul Delgadillo ordered a retake for encroachment, and Potros goalkeeper Moises Muņoz saved Pardo's second attempt.
America, which is atop Group 2 and fourth overall, behind Santos Laguna on goal difference (plus-8 to plus-7), appears to have shored up its defensive problems, and the relationship among Vuoso, playmaker Daniel Montenegro and former Toluca star Vicente Sanchez has solidified just when it most matters.
“We're there, and we were able to get there,” America coach Manuel Lapuente said after Saturday night's victory, according to Reforma. “We're playing well … we've finished the league well, although we have a game against Pumas to play, and we cannot lose at home. We're going to put a lot of effort into that game. This isn't over until it's over, and we're going to fight to climb one spot higher.”