The Los Angeles Galaxy took over first place in the Western Conference with a wild 3-2 victory against the Colorado Rapids on Sunday night at The Home Depot Center, as referee Jair Marrufo whistled for three penalty kicks in the final five minutes -- two converted by the Galaxy's Landon Donovan.
The teams traded goals six minutes apart in the first half, then just as the match seemed set to dwindle to a 1-1 draw, it suddenly burst into life with the first of the penalty kicks in the 86th minute. Just two minutes later the Rapids equalized through a spot kick of their own, but Donovan sealed the win with a bitterly contested penalty called just as the clock ticked over for the full 90 minutes to give the home side the victory.
The match started out like nearly every other game for the Galaxy on their current four-match homestand. Dominating the run of play early, the Green-and-Gold generated the majority of the early scoring opportunities.
The boys from Victoria Street almost broke open the scoring in the 12th minute when Guatemalan international Pando Ramirez sent a low cross along the ground to the top of the 6-yard box. Jovan Kirovski managed to get on the end of the cross, but his effort went helplessly over the crossbar.
Ramirez again caused the Rapids defense headaches just minutes later when a Donovan through ball sprung him loose inside the Colorado penalty area. From a sharp angle, Ramirez again tried to send a cross into the middle; this time however Colorado goalie Joe Cannon was equal to the task, stretching out to snatch the ball away from danger.
The Galaxy struck first on 21 minutes after a clever series of passes from Donovan and Kirovski that eventually led to a Galaxy corner kick. The ensuing corner taken by Donovan, the Galaxy's fourth of the half, inexplicably bounced right in front of Cannon, and big Jamaican center back Tyrone Marshall tucked the ball away.
But the celebrations didn't last long, as the Rapids pulled level just six minutes later on their first real threat of Kevin Hartman for the first time. Jean-Philippe Peguero rose up in the center of the Galaxy box to head home a Chris Henderson cross that stretched Hartman to his limit, but was too far into the corner for the Galaxy 'keeper to do anything about.
Controversy reigned early on in the second half. Donovan crossed a ball into the Rapids penalty area and it was deflected by an apparent handball, but the infraction went uncalled, and play continued, much to the displeasure of the partisan home crowd.
Unselfishness proved to be the undoing of the Galaxy in the 53rd minute. Donovan sent Vagenas free in the box, but instead of shooting, Vagenas opted to pass to Kirovski, who also could have fired home. Instead Kirovski laid the ball back to an unsuspecting Donovan, whose eventual effort was blocked before ever reaching Cannon.
The match quieted down, but the Galaxy had another terrific chance in the 75th minute, after Ramirez led a 4-on-2 break. Again the ball found the boot of Kirovski, but this time his effort was saved off the chest of Cannon, who aggressively came off his line to cut down the angle.
Just when it seemed the Rapids would again escape southern California with a share of the point, Ramirez was brought down at the top of the box, and referee Marrufo had no hesitation in calling for a penalty kick. Donovan stepped up to the spot and buried the apparent game-winner in the 86th minute.
The fan's cheers were quickly silenced though when Luchi Gonzalez earned the Rapids a penalty one minute later. The young forward dribbled through the heart of the box and Hartman sent him acrobatically head over heels, and second half substitute Jeff Cunningham made good on the opportunity to again level the scoreline.
Just when things couldn't get anymore frantic, Marrufo again changed the face of the game, calling another penalty kick for the Galaxy. Committing several players forward for a corner kick, Marshall was pulled down in the box by Guy Melamed. After bitter recriminations from the Rapids defenders, Donovan hit for his second goal from the spot in a matter of minutes.
This time the home side saw out the lead, and the Galaxy moved one point clear of FC Dallas and into first place in the West.
MLSnet.com Man of the Match: Pando Ramirez (Los Angeles Galaxy)
Greg Daurio is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.
Colorado Rapids (1-4-1) vs. Los Angeles Galaxy (4-1-0)
May 08, 2005 -- The Home Depot Center
LA -- Tyrone Marshall 1 (Landon Donovan 3) 21
COL -- Jean Philippe Peguero 1 (Chris Henderson 4, Leo Cullen 1) 27
LA -- Landon Donovan 4 (penalty kick) 86
COL -- Jeff Cunningham 3 (penalty kick) 88
LA -- Landon Donovan 5 (penalty kick) 91+
Colorado Rapids -- Joe Cannon, Hunter Freeman, Nat Borchers, Ritchie Kotschau, Eric Denton, Leo Cullen (Guy Melamed 60), Kyle Beckerman, Mark Chung, Chris Henderson, Luchi Gonzalez, Jean Philippe Peguero (Jeff Cunningham 75).
Substitutes Not Used: Byron Foss, Ricky Lewis, Alain Nkong.
TOTAL SHOTS: 3 (3 tied with 1); SHOTS ON GOAL: 2 (Jeff Cunningham 1, Jean Philippe Peguero 1); FOULS: 18 (Hunter Freeman 4, Luchi Gonzalez 4); OFFSIDES: 6 (Jean Philippe Peguero 3); CORNER KICKS: 2 (Chris Henderson 2); SAVES: 6 (Joe Cannon 4)
Los Angeles Galaxy -- Kevin Hartman, Chris Albright, Ugo Ihemelu, Tyrone Marshall, Todd Dunivant, Cobi Jones, Paulo Nagamura (Mubarike Chisoni 69), Peter Vagenas, Guillermo Ramirez, Landon Donovan, Jovan Kirovski (Ednaldo da Conceicao 78).
Substitutes Not Used: Paul Broome, Pablo Chinchilla, Steve Cronin, Herculez Gomez, Guillermo Gonzalez, Ned Grabavoy, Michael Umana.
TOTAL SHOTS: 18 (Landon Donovan 5); SHOTS ON GOAL: 9 (Landon Donovan 4); FOULS: 20 (3 tied with 3); OFFSIDES: 1 (Mubarike Chisoni 1); CORNER KICKS: 10 (Landon Donovan 10); SAVES: 0
LA -- Tyrone Marshall (caution; Reckless Foul) 36
LA -- Jovan Kirovski (caution; Reckless Foul) 40
COL -- Leo Cullen (caution; Game Disrepute) 40
COL -- Hunter Freeman (caution; Pushing, Holding) 59
LA -- Chris Albright (caution; Reckless Foul) 65
COL -- Jeff Cunningham (caution; Dissent) 85
COL -- Guy Melamed (caution; Pushing, Holding) 90
Referee: Jair Marrufo
Referee's Assistants: -Paul Scott; Emiliano Monje
4th Official: Ramon Hernandez
Weather: Partly Cloudy-and-73-degrees
All statistics contained in this boxscore are unofficial.