Saturday's match between the Los Angeles Galaxy and the San Jose Earthquakes was a night for players to score against their former teams. Unfortunately for L.A., it was two of their former players who did more of the damage, condemning the visitors to a 2-1 defeat at the hands of their northern rivals.
Alejandro Moreno had put the Quakes in front with a header midway through the first half. But Quakes' old boy Landon Donovan then got a measure of revenge in the 38th minute, scoring a priceless equalizer, his first goal against his former club. It was then left to former Galaxy defender Danny Califf to have the last word, as he headed home the game winner in the 75th minute.
The result saw San Jose extend their lead in the Western Conference while the Galaxy slipped to third place in the Western Conference, nine points behind the Earthquakes and one behind FC Dallas.
Los Angeles received a blow prior to kickoff when it was revealed that midfielder Paulo Nagamura would miss the match due to a sprained right knee, giving Ned Grabavoy a start in his place. The injury was picked up in the Galaxy's 2-1 midweek victory against the Quakes in the U.S. Open Cup, and the Brazilian will be re-examined when the team returns to Los Angeles.
An injury in midweek claimed a midfielder for the Quakes as well, with Brad Davis forced to sit out with a left groin strain.
Otherwise both teams were at full strength, although Donovan's return to the lineup forced midweek hero Herculez Gomez to the bench.
The game's first chance went to the Galaxy in the seventh minute, when a Grabavoy through ball found Pablo Chinchilla breaking in from the left wing. But Quakes goalkeeper Pat Onstad charged off his line and stuffed Chinchilla's near post attempt.
San Jose hit back in the 15th minute when Kelly Gray's lofted ball was eventually corralled by Ronald Cerritos, but the Salvadoran's snap shot was snared by Galaxy netminder Kevin Hartman.
This sparked a spell of sustained pressure by the home side and they went close to going on top when a Ricardo Clark drive went narrowly wide in the 22nd minute. But the Quakes nosed in front just a minute later when Moreno beat Hartman to a Mark Chung free kick, his glancing header settling into the top corner of the Galaxy goal as he clattered into the Galaxy 'keeper much to his ire.
Los Angeles lost Jovan Kirovski in the 36th minute to an apparent knee injury in a collision with Quakes' defender Eddie Robinson. Gomez replaced him and had an immediate impact. In the 37th minute, the Galaxy forward fed a pass to Donovan, who nodded the ball to himself before lashing the ball home from 20 yards, silencing the partisan crowd thanks to his dipping, curling effort.
Donovan nearly doubled his tally on the evening just a minute later when he shook loose from a near identical spot, but his shot sailed just over the bar.
San Jose began the second half on the offensive and nearly regained the lead in the 46th minute courtesy of another Chung free kick. This time Hartman got just enough of the ball to deny the attempted header from Cerritos.
Another Chung cross in the 52nd minute found Califf at the far post, but Hartman was on hand to make a diving save from the Earthquakes defender's volley.
The Quakes continued to do most of the attacking, and Hartman had to be sharp to tip over De Rosario's looping header in the 61st minute.
The Galaxy finally began to stem the tide and nearly went ahead when a Donovan free kick was nodded against the post by Chris Albright in the 65th minute. Donovan followed up that effort with a shot off the turn two minutes later that went straight at Onstad.
But just when it seemed the Galaxy had gotten a grip on the game, the home side went ahead in the 75th minute. It was Califf who struck, as his near post header from a Cerritos corner flew past Hartman, giving the Quakes a 2-1 lead.
Los Angeles had a great attempt to equalize in the 80th minute when Chinchilla won a free kick from just 20 yards out, but Onstad was on hand to tip Donovan's effort over the bar. The Galaxy's last gasp came a minute into stoppage time when a corner kick fell to Peter Vagenas deep in the box, but his attempted volley went high over the bar.
MLSnet.com Man of the Match: Ronald Cerritos (San Jose Earthquakes)
Jeff Carlisle is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.