Heading into the season finale against the San Jose Earthquakes, much was still in doubt for the Los Angeles Galaxy. They had locked in a playoff spot long ago, but what their exact finishing position was going to be was very much in doubt. Still, despite the uncertainty, the Galaxy controlled their own destiny.
But Saturday at The Home Depot Center, the Galaxy came out with an overall lack of energy in a game that meant so much to their playoff lives. The Quakes jumped on the Galaxy late in the first half, scoring two goals just before halftime, and Los Angeles never recovered, eventually falling 3-1.
With the loss, the Galaxy will now be forced to play the same San Jose squad in the opening round. While no team will say that it is satisfied with a loss, Saturday night's result really is a mixed bag. The Galaxy now gets to play the Quakes twice, rather than a winner-take-all single game Western Conference Championship.
"There are certain advantages to that. We felt confident we could go up to Spartan Stadium and get a result. Now we have a chance to play both here and there," said Galaxy head coach Steve Sampson of the home-and-away series his team now faces. "We don't like the fact that we finished fourth. But the advantage is that we now get to play San Jose twice, and feel that this club can get a result against them."
With two more games guaranteed between the two bitter rivals, more fireworks are sure to come. On Saturday, the two teams combined for seven yellow cards and two red card ejections. The Galaxy got the worst of the two red cards though as Tyrone Marshall, the anchor in the center of the L.A. defense, will miss the Galaxy's home leg.
Herculez Gomez is new to the rivalry this season, but has already become a marked man, due to his recent run of success. He didn't score a goal on Saturday, but did manage to get into the final box score.
"I just saw the stat sheet and it says I suffered five fouls. They're going to come at me, they're going to come at us," said Gomez about the physical nature of the season finale. "Still I have to tip my hat to them. They played well, they took advantage of their opportunities. We just got beat in every aspect of the game."
The first half belonged to San Jose. The Quakes were winning virtually every 50/50 ball, and tilted the field towards the Galaxy's defensive third throughout the opening 45 minutes. Still the Galaxy almost escaped to the locker room even.
The relentless pressure though finally did the Galaxy in, starting in the 42nd minute. Mark Chung was unmarked at the back post and headed home a Brian Mullan cross, continuing a trend of mental mistakes that has plagued the Galaxy all season.
Then, just before the half, Dwayne De Rosario hammered home the first nail in the Galaxy's coffin with a 30-yard blast on a free kick in the 45th minute.
"The second goal by De Rosario was a world class goal," said Sampson. "It really took the wind out of our sails going into halftime. You've got to give him credit for scoring a goal like that."
The Galaxy managed to pull it together for a stretch in the second half and even pulled one back in the 68th minute when Chris Albright drew a penalty kick. Landon Donovan sent the ball one way and Pat Onstad dove the other. But that was as close as the Galaxy could get on the night.
Despite a late offensive surge, the Galaxy could never find the fourth goal of the game that would have tied the score.
Instead it was the Quakes that scored the fourth goal through a perfectly played combination that was finished by Brian Mullan from eight yards out. The Quakes rounded out the victory and gained some confidence playing in a building where they haven't enjoyed too much success.
"At the end of the day we have to come with a better attitude. I don't think anyone really wants to back into the playoffs," said Sampson. "And that's how I feel the result really tends to lead us to believe. We need to make sure we get over it and try to rally and get our spirits right."
The Galaxy will have eight days to recover from what can only be described as a bitter disappointment. Next Sunday afternoon the second season begins, when the California Clasico is once again revisited in Carson.
Greg Daurio is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.