Having faced off on three occasions in the past 10 days -- one of which was for the U.S. Open Cup -- with a view to a possible two-match MLS quarterfinal playoff series, competitive spirit between FC Dallas and the Los Angeles Galaxy will only rise from here.
Yet, it won't translate to anything positive for Dallas if it can't find a way to neutralize Galaxy quasi-rookie Herculez Gomez, who added a first-half double to his Open Cup match-winner Wednesday in another Galaxy triumph, this time 2-1 at The Home Depot Center.
The Galaxy playing without Landon Donovan, who sprained his left ankle in Wednesday's Open Cup final, found a new team goals co-leader in league play in Gomez, whose 11 goals in 21 matches match Donovan's output. Gomez scored clinically in the 12th and 45th minutes to trump Aaron Pitchkolan's 42nd-minute laser for FC Dallas, reduced to 10 with defender Greg Vanney's sending off in the 50th minute.
The Hoops fell into third place in the Western Conference, two points behind L.A., still with two matches in hand on the Galaxy. Still, the Hoops are 0-7 against the Galaxy at The Home Depot Center, should they have to make a playoff trip to Carson, and since 1997, Dallas is 1-11-2 against the Galaxy in L.A.
FC Dallas made three changes from its first 11 in the Open Cup final. David Wagenfuhr was inserted into the rearguard so that Bobby Rhine could fill the right wing hole vacated by Ronnie O'Brien's lower back contusion suffered in the opening minutes of the Open Cup final. Pitchkolan and Oscar Pareja were midfield swaps for Arturo Alvarez and Carey Talley, serving a match suspension along with Hoops captain Simo Valakari.
Like a few days ago, Clarke's 4-5-1 formation did not produce much cause for Galaxy concern. There were very few combinations executed and most buildup going forward broke down into individual play. Of course, without O'Brien and strikers Carlos Ruiz (hamstring) and Eddie Johnson (likely out for the regular season), the quality of Clarke's attacking options were severely limited.
Ned Grabavoy was the Galaxy's lone switch (for Donovan) from their Open Cup lineup, and Dallas could have been fooled into thinking he was Donovan as he was active early in the best player on the park the first 15 minutes. In fact, Grabavoy set up Gomez's opener by sending a searching ball from the Galaxy half into the right side of the penalty area.
Gomez sprinted past FC Dallas center back Clarence Goodson, absorbed his bump while Goodson lost his balance and fell over, and regained his composure to knock his shot off the inside of the far post past Hoops goalkeeper Scott Garlick from the right corner of the six-yard box.
Stung by the manner in which Galaxy midfielder Marcelo Saragosa put a knee to O'Brien's back on Wednesday, the Hoops appeared to want to establish the physical tone. A minute after Gomez's goal, Boby Rhine's hard foul on Gomez forced him off the pitch for a couple minutes. Vanney's elbow to the throat of Gomez in the 29th minute was not seen by the referee and Gomez got cautioned for shoving in retaliation.
Dallas recorded its first shot on target when Pareja sent a harmless, two-bouncer from 30 yards straightaway into the hands of fallen Galaxy 'keeper Kevin Hartman. Hartman would not stop Dallas' next shot on the target five minutes later.
Rhine's cross towards the penalty spot was knocked down by Galaxy defender Ugo Ihemelu, who got his studs to the ball while holding off Roberto Mina. The ball fell for Pitchkolan, whose half-volley cannon from a yard outside the area rose into the upper right corner.
The Hoops would have taken a stalemate heading into the locker room, but Gomez's workrate would not allow for it. He ran at Wagenfuhr, the last defender attempting to play the ball forward from just inside his own half, and blocked the pass with his shoulder. The ball deflected behind Wagenfuhr as Gomez raced past, headed down towards the top of the area and cheekily chipped Garlick a yard inside the area.
The Hoops were the ones pushing forward and needing a goal in the second half but were equally as inept as in the first 45 minutes. Matters didn't help when Vanney was shown red from referee Terry Vaughn in the 50th minute for tripping Joseph Ngwenya from behind as the last defender.
Mina, leaving Sunday to join the Ecuadorian national team for a pair of World Cup qualifiers, held off two defenders in the 59th minute only to chip his shot high over Hartman and the cross bar as he began to fall backward. He was subbed out in the 70th minute.
Ramon Nunez's 78th-minute free kick, from 30 yards, whistled well high and wide of the top right corner. In the 82nd minute, Wilson took a hit from 25 yards straightaway that Hartman tipped out for a corner.
The Galaxy, strictly playing the counterattack could have had a few more goals in the last 10 minutes if not for some atrocious finishing by Peter Vagenas and Guillermo Ramirez.
Garlick did produce a fabulous reaction save on Cobi Jones, in the 83rd minute, and quickly fell to smother Gomez's attempt for his first hat trick in the 90th minute. But the Hoops had no answers at the other end, and as a result relinquished home-field advantage -- for the moment -- in the MLS Cup Playoffs.
MLSnet.com Man of the Match: Herculez Gomez (Los Angeles Galaxy)
Damian Secore is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.