Ned Grabavoy's goal midway through the second half clinched a 1-1 draw between the Los Angeles Galaxy and San Jose Earthquakes on Saturday night at Spartan Stadium, sending the Galaxy into the Western Conference Championship with a 4-2 victory on aggregate.
The fourth-seeded Galaxy will visit the third-seeded Colorado Rapids, who ousted FC Dallas in a penalty-kick shootout after the teams played to a 2-2 draw earlier on Saturday.
After cruising to an opening-game 3-1 win against San Jose at The Home Depot Center last weekend, Los Angeles was put on its heels late in the first half on a goal by Brian Ching. However, with San Jose pushing for the equalizer, Grabavoy's 67th-minute goal struck the decisive blow.
Much like two years ago, where the Galaxy came into San Jose holding a two-goal lead on aggregate then scored two more early goals, L.A. generated the game's first opportunity in just the second minute. Herculez Gomez hit a long ball toward Landon Donovan off a quick counter. In a play eerily similar to Donovan's clinching goal in the waning minutes of the first game, he got to the ball first and nicked it over the onrushing Pat Onstad, but just wide of the left post.
Los Angeles spent most of the first half absorbing pressure from San Jose and looking to spring Donovan on the counter. Although the Earthquakes had most of the possession, their opportunities were limited for most of the half. Midfielder Dwayne De Rosario had a good look at a 19-yarder from straight on but blasted it over the crossbar in the 14th minute. Mark Chung was presented with a half-chance in the 17th minute after a De Rosario free kick was parried away by Hartman, but also shot too high.
With eight men consistently behind the ball, the Galaxy were able to limit the Earthquakes attack for most of the first half to a series of half-chances and hopeful launches. In the 38th minute, Ching picked up a deflected pass from the left side of the area and ripped a 22-yarder, but the shot went just wide.
A mistake by Hartman led to San Jose's first goal, in the 42nd minute. Receiving a back pass from left back Todd Dunivant, Hartman cleared the ball directly to San Jose midfielder Brian Mullan about 25 yards away from goal. Mullan hit a cross to Ching, who planted a diving header into the lower right corner.
After the break, just a goal down on aggregate, San Jose came to life offensively and nearly tied the match on two separate occasions.
Former Galaxy forward Alejandro Moreno picked up a loose ball near the top of the box after De Rosario won a header, held off Tyrone Marshall and cut back against Ugo Ihemelu. But Los Angeles goalkeeper Kevin Hartman dove to his left to smother the shot in the 65th minute. Then, just a minute later, Chung ripped a hopeful volley from the top of the box that just missed wide left.
But after holding off the Earthquakes, not surprisingly Donovan was once again at the center of attention, initiating the equalizing goal with a driving run through midfield. He rolled a through ball that split defenders Eddie Robinson and Kelly Gray to Grabavoy, who latched onto the ball along the left side of the area. The second-year pro then chipped the ball past Onstad into the right side netting to once again put the Galaxy two goals ahead overall.
Los Angeles was able to withstand a furious rally by the Earthquakes, who went with a 3-5-2 formation with two attacking midfielders for the final 20 minutes. Hartman was forced into a diving save in the 81st minute off a 21-yard blast from De Rosario. Just a minute later, former Moreno headed a free kick from second-half substitute Kevin Goldthwaite just wide of the right post.
In stoppage time, Robinson rose up to head a corner kick. The ball deflected off a Galaxy defender, but Hartman was able to make the reflex save, and while the Earthquakes remained unbeaten on the season in MLS league and cup play, it was the Galaxy who were still alive in the hunt for the MLS Cup.
MLSnet.com Man of the Match: Ned Grabavoy (Los Angeles Galaxy)
Danny Kadah is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.