The Kansas City Wizards couldn't duplicate their late heroics from a week ago Sunday night, falling to the Los Angeles Galaxy 2-1 at The Home Depot Center.
The Wizards had to consider themselves fortunate to rally from a two-goal deficit in the last 10 minutes to tie the Galaxy at home last weekend, but this time, substitute Marcelo Saragosa's 74th-minute header nullified Josh Wolff's equalizer two minutes prior as Kansas City's winless league streak hit five in front of a crowd of 22,552.
More importantly, the Wizards failed to solidify their playoff positioning in the Eastern Conference. K.C. remains three points ahead of the MetroStars for the fourth and final berth and two back of Chicago for third place.
The Wizards made two changes from last weekend's match that began this home-and-home series. Davy Arnaud regained his left midfield slot over Jermaine Hue and defender Alex Zotinca got his third game in three and a half months at right back over Shavar Thomas, who has a strained right hamstring.
Kansas City played a very fluid first half, creating chances early through ball pressure and active possession, and its defense won almost every final ball the Galaxy played to the front line. The Wizards had to feel a bit hard done by to go into the locker room down a goal at the intermission.
Taking the initiative as early as the second minute against the Galaxy, K.C.'s Jose Burciaga, Jr., hit an in-swinging, left-footed corner that glanced off the head of Pete Vagenas at the near post. Goalkeeper Kevin Hartman, renowned for his ability to produce reflex saves, got a quick paw up to tip the ball over the bar.
Chris Klein, who has typically been an effective player against the Galaxy, set up Wolff for another chance in the sixth minute as he played him into the penalty area on the left. Wolff collected and sidestepped the charging Hartman and the recovering Chris Albright but mishit the shot at a half-open goal, rolling it two feet wide of the near post.
Another K.C. opportunity, in the 33rd minute, also found misfortune when Trinidad and Tobago international Scott Sealy was denied by the crossbar from seven yards after receiving Arnaud's feed inside the area on the left and wiggling free of defender Todd Dunivant towards the end line.
At the other end, Zotinca proved a worthy inclusion in heading clear Cobi Jones' 25th-minute cross on the mouth of goal with Gomez riding his back. Then, with fleet-footed striker Joseph Ngwenya bearing down on him with only the goalkeeper behind him, Zotinca disrupted Ngwenya into a weak shot wide to the left.
Despite such a staunch, solid effort in the back, the Wizards fell victim to a clinical bit of finishing from the Galaxy's diamond in the rough, Herculez Gomez, a developmental player last year under Sigi Schmid who only factored into Galaxy coach Steve Sampson's lineup this year with Donovan so frequently away on international duty.
With Donovan dropped into a withdrawn striker's position, the Donovan-Gomez attacking partnership produced yet another example of the fine harmony shared this season.
In the 33rd minute, Donovan lobbed a pass toward the top edge of the penalty area, creating a race for the ball between Gomez and defender Nick Garcia. Gomez won the chase and was rewarded as his first-time strike of a bouncing ball rocketed into the far, left-side netting on one bounce. It was Gomez's ninth goal and Donovan's ninth assist.
The Wizards nearly found themselves down two goals 24 seconds into the restart.
Ngwenya sprung loose on goal with only K.C. 'keeper Bo Oshoniyi, coming off his line, to beat. But Oshoniyi made a leg block on Ngwenya's cut-back shot from 14 yards after Ngwenya touched the ball to his right in attempting to circle the keeper.
Oshoniyi was up to the task again two minutes later in handling a sneaky, 9-yard, steep-angled shot from Gomez.
The Wizards equaled the Galaxy's earlier quality in finishing with Wolff's equalizer in the 72nd-minute. Conrad carried his dribble into the last third and found space to play Wolff tot he top, right edge of Hartman's 6-yard box. Wolff impressively swung his body around to turn his ninth goal of the season into the far netting.
The stalemate would only last until the next scoring opportunity, however, as Cobi Jones drew a foul on Garcia 30 yards out on the right. Saragosa, making his 2005 home debut after being reacquired from Brazilian side Sao Paulo, latched onto Donovan's curling free kick and angled the header cleanly inside the far post for his first career MLS goal. Saragosa's match-winning header only went unchallenged after Conrad stumbled in running over to battle for the ball.
Still, the Wizards were not devoid of opportunities to earn a point. Klein and Wolff engaged on a give-and-go sequence in the 79th minute, but Klein's normally reliable left foot let him down as he took Wolff's cutback pass near the end line. He directed a first-time shot from the penalty spot a couple yards wide left.
Preki, entering for Zotinca in the 66th minute, was called on for his specialty -- a 24-yard free kick from straightaway -- in the 86th minute, but he could only curl his left-footed effort two yards over the bar.
Amid the early stages of a whopping six minutes of stoppage time, Preki found himself on the other end of a free kick, from Josh Wolff, on the far side but he volleyed into the side netting with his magical left foot.
MLSnet.com Man of the Match: Landon Donovan
Damian Secore is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.