CARSON, Calif. — Although the LA Galaxy and Houston Dynamo have both enjoyed their share of success since the Texas club began play in 2006, only once during that span had the clubs' success overlapped.
But when the two teams collided, it was a lights-out affair.
MLS Cup 2011 finalists LA and Houston have met once before in the playoffs, coincidentally at the same site of this year's final. In 2009, the Galaxy hosted Houston in the Western Conference Championship. And while the match was significant because it helped the Galaxy reach MLS Cup, it also stands out for another reason.
On two separate occasions, the lights went out completely, forcing lengthy stoppages in play.
“It definitely was a crazy game," Galaxy defender Gregg Berhalter told MLSsoccer.com on Tuesday. "I don’t know if I’ve ever really been part of another one like that."
At the time, Houston were at the tail end of a superb four-year stretch that saw the club win two MLS Cups, one regular-season Western Conference Championship and reach the '09 Western Conference final. Determined to make it back to MLS Cup, Houston came out flying. The first outage may have helped the hosts, Berhalter recalled.
"I remember that they came out very strong, and even though I won’t say the first blackout gave us an advantage, I think it sort of changed the course of that game,” Berhalter said. “It gave us a chance to sort of regroup a little bit and figure a few things out. But that’s the way it goes. Some things happen that you can’t control, and they might really affect the outcome of the game.”
Conspiracy theories circled after the match.
"Some people say it was on purpose," Galaxy defender Sean Franklin told MLSsoccer.com. "Who knows? It was a long game, and I expect the same kind of game this Sunday."
No team took advantage of the first outage – at least on the scoreboard. The second outage was perhaps more unexpected than the first.
"I remember the second one. It was a huge sigh of ‘You've got to be kidding me,’” defender Todd Dunivant told MLSsoccer.com. “And it was long, it was like 30 minutes or something pretty crazy. From a mental standpoint, that was the biggest thing. Obviously, physically you have to stay warm and stay going. But from a mental side, it was a challenge."
The outages prolonged the match and made it memorable but ultimately the teams handled them well. And if there is anything that the teams can take from the match, it's that they must be prepared for any situation.
"It switched the momentum for both teams," Franklin said. "It can be like that this Sunday where things are going right for them and things are going right for us. It's all about just playing a strong, mental 90-minute game."
The Galaxy went on to win back in 2009 as Berhalter and Landon Donovan scored goals in extra time to send the Galaxy back to MLS Cup. Now, as Houston and the Galaxy prepare to do battle in a postseason match at the Home Depot Center once more, the same scenario won't repeat itself. And for good reason.
"I think we paid the bills this year," Dunivant said. "Hopefully, all will be well."
Luis Bueno covers the LA Galaxy for MLSsoccer.com and can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org