Wizards split points with visiting Galaxy

Claudio Lopez scored perhaps the most exciting goal in Major League Soccer this season in the 26th minute to stake the Kansas City Wizards to an early lead before Landon Donovan and David Beckham connected on a game-tying goal seven minutes later for the Los Angeles Galaxy to force a 1-1 draw Saturday in front of a CommunityAmerica Ballpark capacity crowd and a national television audience.

The result moved Kansas City to 5-6-6 (21 points) and kept them in fifth place in the Eastern Conference. Los Angeles is now 6-3-10 (28 points) and moved into a second-place tie in the Western Conference with Seattle Sounders FC.

Lopez's fifth goal of the year, a rainmaking bomb from the midfield stripe, came from nowhere as the veteran forward controlled the ball in the center circle. Looking downfield, Lopez saw Galaxy goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts well off his line, not expecting to be challenged from so far.

Lopez took aim and launched an unassisted aerial beauty (reminiscent of Beckham's shot a year ago in Los Angeles) into the net over Ricketts, who leaped high but could not recover. Ricketts' momentum carried him back first into the post, and he was replaced moments later by Josh Saunders in the net, leaving with back spasms.

The Galaxy answered immediately, however, as Landon Donovan ripped a 20-yard shot past Wizards goalkeeper Kevin Hartman in the 33rd minute, sneaking it past Hartman's right into the side of the net.

Midfielder to midfielder, Beckham fed Donovan on the tying goal, proving that while stories of discontent between the two have been recent fodder off the field, there is nothing wrong with the pair's chemistry on it.

For much of the game, the Wizards dodged a consistent LA attack, bending several times but breaking just once on Donovan's goal. In the first half, the Galaxy dominated possession and took seven shots (to Kansas City's four), but Hartman was up to the task, coming up big on several occasions to thwart scoring chances.

On the other side, Wizards head coach Curt Onalfo mentioned earlier in the week that he felt his team would be able to find its own ways to score against the Galaxy.

Seemingly, those opportunities didn't materialize early on as Kansas City struggled to enter the final third in the first 45 minutes. Credit Lopez for creating his own break, as the Galaxy defense was sound for much of the rest of the match. Kansas City managed just one shot on goal in the first half.

The second half was much better in terms of creating chances for Kansas City.

In the 50th minute, K.C. midfielder Herculez Gomez took aim but missed a precious chance wide right from 10 yards away.

Two minutes later, Lopez almost earned his second goal of the game on a free kick from 20 yards, but an excellent full extension punch save by Saunders over the crossbar kept the game tied.

Lopez once again had a chance to break the tie in the 78th minute with another free kick, this one just missing as it hammered the crossbar unabated. The ball then ricocheted off Galaxy defender Omar Gonzalez and was cleared away.

His final free kick came in the 87th minute -- an effort that sailed well right of the goal, turning possession over to L.A.

The raucous crowd was on point from the beginning, showering the Wizards end with blue and white streamers as the game began. Amidst the sea of paper, Kansas City goalkeeper Kevin Hartman chucked a few unopened rolls from where they came.

Play was halted in the 46th minute for several minutes as the streamers made a re-appearance to open the second half, again covering the field and forcing CAB crew to take the paper away. Even after the cleanup, Galaxy 'keeper Saunders spent time high-stepping through blue-and-white paper.

For Beckham, it was a solid performance. His first corner came in the fourth minute, and the star heard mostly boos among scattered cheers from the flashbulb-popping stands as his corner was turned away. His next corner came in the 10th minute, a cross again blocked away by Hartman. Two more corner opportunities rose in the first half, each ending harmlessly.

With much less fanfare, Wizards player Adam Cristman saw his first action of the season, entering in the 63rd minute for Gomez and attempting a shot in the 68th. Cristman had been out with a fifth metatarsal fracture after being acquired in the offseason from New England.

Kansas City is 1-1-2 in MLS competition since June 13 -- its last win coming against New England. The Galaxy entered Saturday having won four consecutive games, including their last two on the road.

Just off a bye week, the Wizards are now done until Aug. 1 (at FC Dallas) as the MLS All-Star Game takes place at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah, July 29. The Galaxy have next weekend off, traveling to face the New England Revolution on Aug. 8.

Curtis Kitchen is a contributor to MLSnet.com.

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