The Los Angeles Galaxy came out on top Sunday night in a duel between teams battling for playoff positioning, defeating the Kansas City Wizards 2-1 at The Home Depot Center.
The Galaxy were paced by midfield ace Landon Donovan, who assisted on both of his team's goals – a first-half strike by Herculez Gomez and Marcelo Saragosa's game-winner, which came just two minutes after the Wizards' Josh Wolff had equalized.
Despite the fact that both teams' playoff lives were hanging in the balance, neither team came out with much energy to start the game. It was Kansas City that came out more aggressive, making the Galaxy defense look shaky in the early going. Kevin Hartman stood tall in the Galaxy net, but it was his own defenders who threatened his goal the most.
In just the second minute of play, Kansas City earned a corner kick. On the play, Pete Vagenas attempted to head the ball over the line, but instead his glancing header was earmarked for the top corner of the net. Only a quick reaction save from Hartman kept the game scoreless.
Four minutes later, Wolff outraced the Galaxy defense to a long through ball and broke into the Galaxy penalty area alone. Hartman slid out to meet Wolff but the crafty striker managed to round the 'keeper. With Hartman out of position, he cut back to the middle, but a pair of defenders guarded Hartman's line and forced Wolff to fire wide on his attempt.
The Wizards continued to press and in the 32nd minute Scott Sealy dribbled into the box. Galaxy defender Todd Dunivant pestered Sealy the whole way but couldn't prevent him from getting off a shot from a sharp angle. The shot beat Hartman, but this time the woodwork came to the rescue, denying Sealy his 10th goal of the year.
Just one minute later, Gomez got the first shot of the game for the Galaxy and made it count, opening the scoring with a rocket volley from 18 yards out. The play started in the Galaxy's defensive third, but two quick passes from Dunivant, then Landon Donovan found Gomez alone at the top of the area. The Galaxy's red-hot striker gave Kansas City 'keeper Bo Oshoniyi no chance as the home side took the lead.
The game started to grind itself into a midfield battle after that, with play getting much more physical. The Galaxy's central midfielder Paulo Nagamura received the brunt of the physical play, going down with an injury in the 42nd minute. The recently re-acquired Saragosa replaced Nagamura, making his first appearance at The Home Depot Center since last season.
The second half got off to a quick start though as just seconds in Joseph Ngwenya stripped the ball from the Wizards defense and went in on a breakaway. Oshoniyi kept the away team within a goal though, smothering Ngwenya's shot.
Ngwenya was at it again just minutes later, dribbling into the Wizards penalty area. His final touch got away from him, but Gomez was there to collect the ball and fire a shot on goal, forcing Oshoniyi into another save.
The Galaxy continued to keep the pressure on and the field seemed to be tilted towards the Kansas City goal, as the majority of the early play in the second half was in the Wizards defensive third. Still, the Galaxy couldn't find that second goal to provide a cushion.
Chris Klein finally broke through for the Wizards and put Hartman to work. A long-range effort that seemed to be half-shot and half-cross tested the veteran goalie, forcing Hartman to tip the ball over the crossbar.
Klein's shot energized his team, and Kansas City began to push for the equalizer. On consecutive forays into the Galaxy's half Kansas City looked dangerous, but the final touch was lacking.
Then, right on 72 minutes, Kansas City leveled the score. Jimmy Conrad found fellow U.S. international Wolff, and the striker fired home with his first touch from just inside the penalty area.
It only took two minutes for the Galaxy to answer though, as Cobi Jones earned a free kick on the right flank. Donovan stepped up to take the ensuing kick and sent an out-swinging cross to the penalty spot, where Saragosa won the header, tucking it away neatly into the back corner of the net to reclaim the lead for the home side.
Riding the excitement of the crowd, Gomez almost struck again immediately after. Using his speed, Gomez worked his way free and fired a rocket shot from close range, but a good reaction save from Oshoniyi again kept his team within striking distance.
Kansas City countered with two kick chances, but wasted both. First it was Wolff who was inexplicably left unmarked 20 yards out and got an uncontested shot off, though his effort was wide. Then Wolff played the role of provider, finding Klein all alone at the penalty spot. This time it was Klein who went wide left, missing an empty net.
The final 10 minutes saw the Galaxy desperately trying to protect the lead. Referee Abbey Okulaja then added six minutes of stoppage time onto the game, adding a bit of tension to the Galaxy defense. But unlike so many other times this year when the Galaxy have given up a late goal, the Green and Gold managed to wrap things up, earning a crucial three points.
MLSnet.com Man of the Match: Landon Donovan
Greg Daurio is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.