Herculez lifts Galaxy to win vs. Rapids

Strike partners Landon Donovan and Herculez Gomez combined for a pair of goals in the first half, then Gomez added another in the second half as the Los Angeles Galaxy made a statement about their future down the stretch to the MLS Cup Playoffs with a 4-1 win against the Colorado Rapids on Saturday night at The Home Depot Center.

Gomez and Donovan had completely turned the game -- and the Rapids defense -- upside down in the opening 25 minutes, each scoring once while also drawing fouls from Colorado defender Nat Borchers that earned him yellow cards, leaving the visitors with just 10 men for the final 70 minutes of the match.

The opposing coaches entered the game with differing philosophies in their lineups. Galaxy coach Steve Sampson started both of his U.S. internationals, Donovan and Chris Albright. Meanwhile, Rapids boss Fernando Clavijo opted to keep his two U.S. internationals, Jeff Cunningham and Pablo Mastroeni on the bench to open the game.

The Galaxy came out firing on all cylinders, dominating the run of play from the opening whistle. It took only six minutes for the Galaxy to find the back of the net, their quickest strike on the year.

Gomez was sent through on a well-weighted pass from midfield, but Colorado rookie defender Hunter Freeman made a good initial play, stealing the ball from Gomez. Yet the persistent Galaxy striker stripped the ball away from Freeman inside the penalty area and then made no mistake with his short-range effort, firing it into the roof of the net.

One minute earlier, Borchers picked up his first yellow card after taking down Donovan. Then in the 21st minute, Gomez victimized Borchers. Ned Grabavoy played a perfect ball in behind the Rapids back line that would have sent Gomez in on a breakaway. Borchers pulled down Gomez just outside the area, picking up his second yellow card and leaving the Rapids a man down for the final 70 minutes of the game.

Just like the first goal, which came a minute after Borchers first card, Donovan found the net barely after his second yellow card. The goal came from a cross from the right flank by Cobi Jones, playing in his 250th career MLS game. Donovan ran onto the cross and nodded a glancing header past Rapids 'keeper Joe Cannon at the near post.

The score at halftime could have been even more inflated in favor of the Green and Gold, as Colorado never troubled the Galaxy net over the course of the opening 45 minutes. On the other hand, the Galaxy created a bevy of near misses. Minutes before scoring, Donovan nearly found the goal with a diving header. The shot was driven down and on target, but Cannon was in perfect position to smother the attempt.

Jones was inches away from notching a goal of his own in the 28th minute, when the Rapids were still reeling. He collected a loose ball at the top of the penalty area and hit a low lining drive towards the near post, but again, Cannon came up huge, getting the slightest of touches to the ball and redirecting it around the post.

By the start of the second half, both Cunningham and Mastroeni were on the field for the Rapids, and seemed to provide calming influence on the away side. The Rapids, who never managed to get a foothold on the game in the first half, began to calm down despite being down a man.

Colorado then pulled a goal back in the opening minutes of the half, halving the lead just three minutes after the break. Kyle Beckerman collected a cross and shot from long distance and Galaxy goalkeeper Kevin Hartman seemed surprised by the shot, and lack of defensive coverage, standing flatfooted on the line as the ball sailed past him.

But in the 66th minute, Gomez scored his second of the night and reclaimed a two-goal lead for the Galaxy. Grabavoy found Gomez making a run just beyond the center stripe, sending Gomez in on a 50-yard breakaway. Gomez's speed was too much for the Colorado rearguard, and as he slipped his shot under Cannon and into the back of the net.

Following the goal, Sampson brought on Troy Roberts to spell Albright, who played 90 minutes against Guatemala in Guatemala City on Wednesday night. Donovan, the other U.S. star on the Galaxy lineup, remained on the field and nearly added another goal to his stat line in the 78th minute, but his deft first time shot from a low Todd Dunivant cross slipped just wide.

Fellow U.S. international Cunningham almost scored one for the Rapids moments later. He appeared to be offside on the play, but the flag stayed down and he rounded Hartman and turned a shot on frame. But Galaxy captain Pete Vagenas was in the right place at the right time and cleared the ball off the line to maintain the two-goal advantage.

The Galaxy extended their lead to 4-1 when Guillermo Ramirez found the net from the penalty spot after a fortuitous bounce. Referee Brian Hall whistled the spot kick after second half sub Joseph Ngwenya was hacked down in the box, and instead of Donovan, who takes the spot kicks for the Galaxy, it was the Guatemalan who took the ball.

Cannon guessed wrong, diving to the right as Ramirez shot left. The shot caromed off the post and bounced back off Cannon's back and into the net for the game's final goal.

With the win, the Galaxy leapfrogged FC Dallas into second place, while also extend their lead over the Rapids to seven points in the Western Conference. On Wednesday, they continue their quest to win two trophies when they play USL First Division side Minnesota Thunder in the U.S. Open Cup semifinals.

MLSnet.com Man of the Match: Herculez Gomez (Los Angeles Galaxy)

Greg Daurio is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.


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