SANTA CLARA, Calif. – The LA Galaxy probably deserved far more than they got from their first four meetings this season with San Jose, but Wednesday night's victory in the Western Conference Semifinal finale surely balanced the ledger.
Three goals in a 20-minute span of the first half gave LA a towering advantage in the home-and-home series, leading to a 3-1 victory and 3-2 aggregate triumph in the series, and a pair of dates with either Real Salt Lake or the Seattle Sounders in the Conference Championship.
It was exactly what they expected.
“We've been the best team in this league since July,” head coach Bruce Arena lectured after the defending MLS Cup champions erased the disappointment of three losses – two after holding two-goal leads, two decided on stoppage-time goals – and a fall-from-ahead draw two-and-a-half weeks ago with a comprehensive performance at Buck Shaw Stadium. “I'm happy nobody's noticed that, which is always good, and so we were able to hide under the radar a little bit.
“We actually were very comfortable we could come in here and win. We were confident about that. We certainly screwed up the other night [in a 1-0 first-leg loss] at home, but we played quite well, and actually the game the other night gave us the confidence we could come in here and win. It was a good matchup for us.”
Robbie Keane scored twice, Landon Donovan set up a pair of goals and LA got superb performances all over the field – perhaps none better than Omar Gonzalez's and Tommy Meyer's in central defense – to dominate the Quakes, who nonetheless made it an adventure until the finish.
“It's when it matters, isn't it?” said Keane, who scored in the 21st and 34th minutes to give LA a 2-1 aggregate lead. “This is when it really counts. Obviously, this year against them we were certainly the better team in every game that we played, but it's about winning games, isn't it? It wasn't to be the last few [meetings], but when it really matters, that's when it counts. And that was tonight.”
LA were sharp up front, unlike in Sunday's first-leg defeat – “Straight from the whistle ... the seriousness was there,” said David Beckham – and the goals coming boom-boom-boom shook San Jose, who struggled to recover before Alan Gordon got one back in the 82nd minute.
“We have guys that are champions on this team, and they know how to respond when things go against you,” Donovan said. “And we actually thought we played OK on Sunday, were a little unlucky, and we thought if we did the same tonight, our luck might change a little bit.
"I think we were terrific throughout the game. ... We were patient, our passing was good, our movement was good, and Robbie and Mike [Magee, who scored the third in the 39th minute] were absolutely lethal when they chances. ...
“For us, it's a step on the way we want to go. We don't think we're done yet. We think we have three more games.”