that was different from 2003. The field tilted toward Kevin Hartman's goal as if the Galaxy were playing uphill. Hartman would send a goal kick to midfield and back it would come toward the Galaxy net. The Earthquakes were winning the battle in midfield but the score remained at zero until the first mistake of the contest was made in the 42nd minute and that came from the goalkeeper himself. Hartman's clearance went right to the foot of Brian Mullen who found another former Galaxy teammate Brian Ching, whose diving header stretched the netting and suddenly this Galaxy ship was taking water at Titanic levels. One-nothing San Jose, that treat of a two-goal cushion coming in looked like a nasty trick. A trick Galaxy fans remember all too well and the Los Angeles lead in total goals was down to just one with another 45 minutes to go. That's an eternity on that bandbox pitch in San Jose.
The second 45 minutes was a different story. This time heartache would go to the Earthquakes. As San Jose pushed and pushed it was the Galaxy's turn to put the dagger in the heart of the home team. In the 67th minute, Landon Donovan led a counter that forced San Jose's defense to collapse on the ball and left Ned Grabavoy open on the left. A nicely fed ball from Donovan to Grabavoy and the kid sent it home and new life for the Galaxy.
"Landon obviously has been lifting it since the playoffs started. He's a player that not only lifted himself but raised the people around him," says coach Steve Sampson. "He's much more engaged, much more involved, greater mobility. Obviously you saw how they had to mark him tonight."
The two-goal margin was returned and the spirit of the Quakes was taken from their souls (it's Halloween; give me a break here).
Both teams fought valiantly in this one. San Jose never quit. The Galaxy never cracked. While Kevin Hartman paid for a mistake in the first half, he was brilliant in the second, turning away at least four great chances. In my opinion, the man of the match was Hartman, as he returned to the form of the Goalkeeper of the Year from seasons past. Stay hot "Harty."
"Kevin Hartman kept us in this playoffs in the second half. He did it in Los Angeles, he did it in the second half this evening," said Sampson.
Big games are where the biggest of stars shine and the unsung heroes introduce themselves. The Galaxy's stars held strong as San Jose's gave their best shots. The unsung hero: Say hello to Ned Grabavoy. Now it is time for the Galaxy to head to Colorado.
SINCE WE ARE TALKING HISTORY ... The last time the Galaxy and Rapids met in the Western Conference Final was 2002. The Galaxy went on to win the MLS Cup. This one is going to be a dogfight. If there was a neutral zone trap in soccer, the Rapids are using it. That's what the Rapids do. They latch on, bump you, kick and scratch you for 90 minutes. It's ugly, but they're in the conference final. Well, Joe Cannon's in the final. It's the other 10 guys who are lucky enough to join him.
WELCOME TORONTO ... More good news for America's premiere soccer league. The city of Toronto has approved a stadium project for a new expansion franchise. Who's next? Talk is Philadelphia, Houston, Milwaukee, St Louis are on the short list -- all good candidates. I think San Diego needs to be looked at again. Really, let's talk about this. MLS trusted a baseball team to promote its All-Star Game in 1999. I wonder how high on the priority list that was? It wasn't. Two locations could be prime for a club, the old Balboa Stadium where the Chargers once played is still available to be rebuilt and now with the HDC, the ARCO Training Center sits and waits for someone to come in take advantage of an already great starting point.
JUST A WORD OF THANKS ... This is the first year I've been able to put my sometimes-crazy thoughts to print in my nine-year association with the Galaxy. It was great to be able to bond with a few of the Galaxy faithful prior and after the playoff game. A lot of kind comments were made to me. Someone even put the safety of his or her camera in jeopardy taking a picture of me. Now that is brave. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.
Joe Tutino is in his seventh season as the English radio voice of the Los Angeles Galaxy. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author's, and not necessarily those of the Los Angeles Galaxy or Major League Soccer.