CARSON, Calif. – Four times the LA Galaxy have had their way with San Jose this season, either dominating the action or surging ahead, usually in combination. Yet, somehow, they didn't win any of those four games.
That has to change Wednesday night. LA are in must-win territory after dropping the first leg of their Western Conference Semifinal series with their longtime rivals, 1-0, and being the better side clearly doesn't mean a whole lot based on past results.
“I think if you look at the games, if everybody studied the games that we played against them, we were the better team, but that absolutely means nothing,” striker Robbie Keane said on the eve of the showdown at Buck Shaw Stadium in Santa Clara (11 pm ET, ESPN2; TSN2/RDS2, live chat on MLSsoccer.com). “I'd prefer we play really bad against them and get a result. We certainly have been the better team, but I'll be happy enough if we're the worst team and we win.”
The Galaxy and Earthquakes have tangled in several classics this season, bitterly battled thrillers that twisted on this or that – calls made and not made, splendid goals, defensive miscues – and contributed, every time, to San Jose's march to the Supporters' Shield.
The Quakes rallied from two-goal deficits to win in May and June, twice rallied from a goal down for a 2-2 draw on Oct. 21 and got a stoppage-time goal against the run of play for the triumph in Sunday's series opener. And still, the drama went far deeper.
LA were in charge for 75 minutes of the May 23 match at the Home Depot Center, then watched it fall apart. Down a man after Hector Jimenez's expulsion, the Galaxy conceded three times in 20 minutes – Alan Gordon's stoppage-time header providing the Quakes a 3-2 victory – on a corner kick, penalty kick and cross into the goalmouth.
The second meeting, before 50,391 on June 30 at Stanford Stadium, was even more absorbing, and a 3-1 advantage late in the first half was gone not long after the break. San Jose's rally for a 4-3 win included two goals via corner kicks. Set pieces brought the Quakes back in a 2-2 draw last month, the first San Jose goal coming from a free kick that probably should not have been awarded, and LA, again the better team, lost Sunday after another questionable whistle.
The Galaxy complained about the officiating after each of the regular-season meetings, but they know that's not why they lost. They gave up 10 goals to San Jose, eight of them after going ahead and seven from corners, penalties or free kicks.
Were they the better team? Yes. Did they deserve to win those games?
“No,” replied David Beckham. “Because we let in easy goals. When you let in easy goals against teams like this, then you don't deserve to win soccer games. We've put ourselves in good position each game to win and then let ourselves down with either mistakes or lack of concentration. It's up to us to overcome that, and this is the game to do that.”
This is the game they must do that, or it's wait 'til next year.
“We probably deserved better than we got on Sunday, but it doesn't matter,” Landon Donovan said. “We've got to earn it, and if it takes 120 minutes, penalty kicks, a fluke goal, an own-goal, anything – we've got to do what we can do to get it.”