Injuries hamper FCD's Open Cup run
You could see the splashing of champagne in the Los Angeles Galaxy locker room, and smell its odor from the outer corridors, following their 1-0 U.S. Open Cup Final victory Wednesday against FC Dallas at The Home Depot Center.
Inside the FC Dallas quarters, you could almost see the steam coming out of the ears and nose of right winger Ronnie O'Brien, furious at what he perceived as dirty tactics employed by Galaxy holding midfielder Marcelo Saragosa.
Saragosa put a knee into O'Brien's lower back in the opening moments of the match and further depleted the visitor's attacking options, and any respect O'Brien may have held for Saragosa was gone. Saragosa was not penalized on the play.
"Too many players read their own press," O'Brien said. "He took me out. He knew what he was doing. It's one of those things that you remember for when you see them again. I've been around long enough to know what he was doing. He's one of those guys, he comes in the game, he tries to make some tackles and tries to take players out of their game."
The Hoops were already without the services of a premier, but injured, MLS strike tandem in Eddie Johnson and Carlos Ruiz, and had lost midfield captain Simo Valakari through his ejection in the Open Cup semifinal against Chicago.
FC Dallas' last established offensive threat left on the pitch was O'Brien, who fell to the ground following Saragosa's reckless challenge from behind within the opening five minutes.
Limping around noticeably the rest of the match at half-speed, FCD coach Colin Clarke shifted him more centrally to start the second half. But O'Brien's Open Cup Final misery ended with his 54th-minute substitution in favor of Oscar Pareja.
"My final ended right away," said O'Brien, whose 10 assists are tied for second in the league to go along with six goals. "I tried to go as long as I could. After halftime, it just stiffened up and that was it. It's all swollen up and there's a big lump in my back."
Added Clarke: "We missed his energy and his life through the middle of the park."
Herculez Gomez's 25th-minute strike, a brilliant scissors kick two yards left of the penalty spot inside the far post, wound up being his 2005 Open Cup-best sixth goal that enabled the Galaxy to win their fourth major trophy -- first since the 2002 MLS Cup -- and second Open Cup (2001).
FC Dallas, whose lone trophy in franchise history was earned after capturing the 1997 U.S. Open Cup title, demonstrated their desire to win a second Dewar Trophy by including only three players in its first 11 that started in Saturday's 1-1 draw at San Jose -- midfielders Arturo Alvarez, Carey Talley and Ramon Nunez.
Clarke's plan was to save the legs of his first-choice group for the final, though he opted for a cautious 4-5-1 formation against the Galaxy. The alignment made sense considering most of the Hoops' scoring talent was confined to the bench.
"Can't complain about anybody," Clarke said. "You get to the final and you're narrowly beaten. A lot of credit goes to my boys for getting here. This was a one-off, playoff style game and we had a lot of 20-year-olds out there. The main goal is the MLS Cup."
While Johnson is likely sidelined for the rest of the regular season, Ruiz, nursing a strained hamstring, was told shortly before the match he would not dress after going through a fitness test earlier Wednesday. Clarke said he was never going to be fit enough to start, however.
If Ruiz -- who has scored 50 MLS goals and a Galaxy-record 11 more in the playoffs (including the lone marker in MLS Cup 2002) in three years with L.A. before being traded in the preseason -- was disappointed about not playing against his former mates, he masked it well.
"It's the other Cup -- Lamar Hunt -- so it's not a big deal," said Ruiz, who ruled himself out this weekend against the Galaxy and hopes to return to the lineup next week. "My hamstring, it's killing me. I tried to make moves before the game, I shot the ball. When I tried to make sprints, I really felt it.
"It's hard to start on the bench but these things happen. But the MLS season continues. I really want to play every game, not just against the Galaxy."
The Hoops' only shot of the first half came in the 40th minute when Bobby Rhine ran onto the ball atop the box on the left following Donovan's misplay. Rhine sent in a near-post chip for Clarence Goodson, but his header missed the top left corner of the goal.
Dallas struggled to create any sustained danger in the second half until five minutes of stoppage time ensued. Nunez tried a 23-yard effort from straightaway that whisked a few yards wide of the left post.
Moments later, Mark Wilson put Dallas' only shot on frame from inside the top of the box; he re-directed an unsettled, bouncing ball that Galaxy 'keeper Kevin Hartman tipped over the crossbar.
"You hate to make excuses ... so we're just not going to make any excuses," said Hoops 'keeper Scott Garlick, who made two huge saves on point-blank shots to keep his team in it. "We defended well for about 88 minutes. We defended well as a group. That takes a lot of work. All the credit to the boys."
Damian Secore is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.