HARRISON, N.J. — There were a few mild surprises in the LA Galaxy’s lineup for their 1-0 win over New York in the first leg of their Western Conference semifinal at Red Bull Arena on Sunday afternoon.
Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan, both of whom have been battling injuries lately, both got starting nods.
But the biggest eyebrow-raiser in the starting XI was between the pipes, where Josh Saunders was selected by coach Bruce Arena over a healthy Donovan Ricketts. Turns out, Arena was just playing the hot hand — and it paid off. big time.
After the Galaxy took a 1-0 lead into the break, the Red Bulls came out with renewed purpose, deadly serious about bagging the equalizer. Saunders was called on time and again, and he responded each time.
“He had an outstanding game,” Arena said of Saunders. “Obviously some key saves, several of them in the second half. He was outstanding.”
Saunders finished with five saves, several of them spectacular, and also anchored the defense by getting off his line, cutting out crosses and generally inspiring confidence.
“Josh was real aggressive coming out,” said Donovan. “That relieved a lot of pressure for us.”
As New York ratcheted up the pressure, Saunders saved his best for last. In stoppage time, he launched himself right to stop a Rafa Márquez volley that seemed postmarked for the back of the net.
“I feel like Josh is a beast every game, but today he was huge,” praised Mike Magee, who scored the game-winner in the 15th minute. “If they get one of those goals — and nine out of 10 times, they’re going to score those — it changes the whole game. And those were pretty much sure goals that he makes freakishly good saves on, so I’m pretty happy that he’s back there.
“Any time you have a guy like Donovan Ricketts on the bench,” Magee continued, “your starter’s got to be pretty damn good. And that’s obviously the case.”