CARSON, Calif. –The LA Galaxy knew what to expect from Vancouver in the Western Conference Knockout Round game: a bunker mentality, counterattacks utilizing the Whitecaps' speed up top, and a fierce battle until the finish. An early goal, they figured, would tame their foe.
Instead, the Canadians struck first, with Darren Mattocks finishing off a swift sequence just 182 seconds into the game, meaining LA found themselves in a real fight fraught with implications they'd rather not consider.
It took goals four minutes apart – Mike Magee's side-volley in the 69th minute and Landon Donovan's penalty kick in the 73rd – to deliver a 2-1 triumph Thursday night at the Home Depot Center, and it required great patience to pull off.
“I think patience is the key tonight,” Donovan said. “It's certainly not the way we wanted to start the game: Kind of one play broke us down, and we were behind the eight ball. Our determination was good, and we kept putting them under pressure.
“We kind of just got the sense that if we were patient, then they were going to wear out, and sure enough in the second half they started opening up a little. They couldn't keep up defending the way that they did in the first half, and we were finally able to pick them apart a little bit.”
The Galaxy had nearly 70 percent possession, took 23 shots and had a 9-0 edge in corner kicks, but they spent most of the match trying to unlock the Whitecaps' defense, which employed at least eight and at times all 10 field players clogging lanes and preventing LA from getting open shots. When chances arrived, Vancouver goalkeeper Brad Knighton was up to the task.
Even David Beckham began to wonder if it just wasn't the Galaxy's night.
“Just because every ball off of our players was going to them, everything was ricocheting in their favor,” he said. “But we kept on going. The players and the team showed character, and when you show that, there's always a chance.”
The Galaxy believed they'd pull it out and weren't the least surprised that they did.
“We're passionate, man, and we don't want to lose,” Donovan said. “We said at halftime, 'Let's stay positive,' because it is frustrating when you work that hard and the goal doesn't come. We've got a number of guys that have the experience and know how to play in games like this, even when we're down a goal. ... A lot of teams would probably get pretty nervous and out of sorts if they gave up that goal [to Mattocks], and I thought our willingness to keep doing what we were doing was really good.
“To come back against a team that was content to defend 11 guys behind the ball, I thought it was really impressive that we were able to break them down.”