Galaxy find themselves on wrong end of emotional game

Khari Stephenson and Rafael Baca confront David Beckham

Photo Credit: 
German Alegria/LA Galaxy

Clutch goals. Tremendous comebacks. Heated exchanges. The California Clasico used to have it all.

Seven years removed from the original Quakes' departure from San Jose, the rivalry has regained its swagger.

Though the LA Galaxy fell to San Jose by 4-3 on Saturday at Stanford Stadium, the match served as a reminder of just what sort of spectacle a Galaxy-Earthquakes match could be.

"The rivalry is back," LA defender Todd Dunivant told reporters after the match. "Both teams are competitive for the championship again and I think that's a big part of it."

HIGHLIGHTS: SJ 4, LA 3

San Jose pushed their advantage over the Galaxy to 16 points and maintained the top spot in the Western Conference, a position LA were in for most of 2011.

That both teams now figure to be competitive for not only a playoff spot but perhaps capable of making a deep playoff run should only produce more moments like Saturday, not to mention the Quakes memorable comeback in LA win a month ago.

"It was a really good game," Galaxy captain Landon Donovan told reporters. "It was enjoyable to be a part of for the most part. The energy was great, there were just 20-some odd people in here who aren't happy."

The Galaxy were on the verge of happiness and appeared to be headed for a strong halftime edge. After falling behind early, they stormed back and scored three goals in a span of 10 minutes and led 3-1 with a scant few minutes remaining in the half.

But the Quakes responded with a goal just before the break as Víctor Bernárdez knocked in a goal off a corner kick to cut the Galaxy's advantage to 3-2.

When Sam Cronin poked in a goal just two minutes into the second half, the Galaxy's good spirits all but evaporated.

"The goal before halftime really hurt us," Donovan said. "We fell asleep on a set piece and they made us pay and that gave them some momentum going into the second half as opposed to us having momentum going into the half. It carried over. We didn't start well in the second half. We gave up an early goal and we knew it was going to be tough from there."

Chris Wondolowski knocked in the eventual match-winner with just under a half-hour remaining. The Galaxy battled back, but San Jose's David Bingham – who replaced Jon Busch at halftime – made a couple of clutch saves to keep them off the scoreboard and the hosts held on for the victory.

The hosts drew some emotion from not only playing against a rival but also the sellout crowd that filled Stanford Stadium, Galaxy players said.

"Of course they're up [for the game]," Donovan said. "They don't play in front of 50,000 ever so this is a big deal for them and we knew it was going to be that way but two weeks ago we would have had no chance in that game and this is a game we should have won."

Emotions spilled over somewhat at the end of the match when David Beckham hit Cronin with a ball kicked from the sideline as Cronin lay on the field after a collision. Beckham earned a yellow card for his action and will miss the Galaxy's match on July 4 against Philadelphia.

Such emotion was perhaps inevitable given the officiating, Galaxy coach Bruce Arena said.

"The referee had no clue to what's going on," Arena told reporters. "There were a couple of handballs in the penalty area he missed, he did a poor job of managing the game.

"The reason there was that disturbance at the end of the game was that I think he didn't take control. You had two competitive teams and things boiled over. I thought the management of the game by the referee was atrocious."

Nonetheless, the Galaxy will have to lick their wounds now after their latest setback to their Northern California rivals. But despite the loss, LA players said they appreciated the moment and having participated in a match such as Saturday's.

"It was amazing. it was a great night for soccer in the Bay Area," said Dunivant, who played his college soccer at Stanford. "It's a great event. I wish we could come back here this year."