CARSON, Calif. – Forgive LA Galaxy players for not believing what had actually happened late in Wednesday’s match against Morelia.
Juninho scored a go-ahead goal in stoppage time against Monarcas, but instead of going into a frenzied celebration, Galaxy players – to a man – did the same thing.
“I stared at [the assistant referee],” Galaxy captain Landon Donovan said after the match. “I turned and was just waiting for him to put [the flag] up, but he didn’t.”
Unlike a similar goal two weeks ago in Mexico, this one stood. Juninho’s goal was the decisive strike as the Galaxy toppled Morelia 2-1 and remained alive in the CONCACAF Champions League. Regardless of other results, if LA beat Motagua in Honduras on Oct. 20, they will advance to the quarterfinals.
WATCH: Full Match Highlights
And while their Champions League road has not been easy, some of the previous wrongs were righted.
“Given what happened in Morelia, we thought it was a little bit unjustified,” Donovan said of LA’s place in the standings. “The world has a crazy thing of working out when you do things the right way, so I’m proud of our guys for continuing to put in the effort and have the attitude that we could still get that goal. And it paid off.”
Robbie Keane’s goal on Sept. 13 would have broken a 1-1 deadlock, but it was inexplicably waved off for a nonexistent offside. Morelia went on to win 2-1 and put the Galaxy in a precarious position. After losing in Costa Rica a week ago, LA suddenly faced a must-win situation entering Wednesday.
That the same scenario played out – a 1-1 score heading into stoppage time – was perhaps a bit of destiny.
“It felt like poetic justice,” Galaxy defender Todd Dunivant said on Wednesday night. “It was pretty ironic how it happened. It was essentially a tale of two games and this time it worked out for us and not for them.”
Needing a victory to keep hope alive, the Galaxy came out and manufactured the game’s first goal. Dunivant helped create it when he made a quick run down the left side of the penalty area in the 21st minute.
“I saw the ball getting crossed and I saw nobody was on the back post and I just took a chance,” Dunivant said. “It did skip through and then I heard Mike [Magee]. Before it even got to me he was yelling. I kind of gave a quick peek, took a touch, defender opened his legs and I put it through right to Mike and it was a great finish. He might be the best finisher on our team in terms of pure finishing and you saw that.”
The Galaxy could not get a second goal, though, and Morelia took advantage as Rafael Márquez Lugo equalized in the 60th minute.
Morelia got their legs underneath them while the Galaxy threw players forward after the goal. While it wasn’t quite desperation, LA had to take more risks than usual.
“The players have to react to the situations; 1-1 wasn’t going to do us any good,” Galaxy coach Bruce Arena said with a shrug. “[If] we lost 4-1, we lost 4-1. We had to win the game. We had to be very aggressive going forward.”
After not having a corner kick in the first half, the Galaxy won their fourth corner kick of the second half in stoppage time. Morelia came in prepared for the hosts’ proficiency on set-pieces, and LA had barely a sniff at net on restarts before Juninho’s winner.
“They did a pretty good job, particularly on Omar [Gonzalez], but we have a number of guys who are good in those situations,” Donovan said. “If you give us enough chances we’re going to make the most out of them.”
Donovan swung the ball in to the near post where Chad Barrett was waiting to flick it on to Juninho, who cut inside his marker and sent it into the back of the net. After Galaxy players confirmed that it was indeed a goal, Juninho celebrated with a bit of hometown flair, leaping into the air and flashing a quick dance.
“I did a capoeira – in Brazil we do this a lot,” Juninho said. “I was just happy I could do it. I don’t think I thought of anything.”
Once in the locker room, Juninho said he heard from Keane about the Brazilian’s flips.
“He said I did the same thing as he did,” Juninho said, referring to Keane’s famous goal celebration. “But he goes forward and I went backwards.”
And this time, there weren’t any flags to prevent any Galaxy players from doing flips.