With more twists and turns than a Hollywood screenplay, the first edition of the "California Clásico" might have proven just what kind of season the Los Angeles Galaxy will put together this season.
Coming off of a tough road loss to expansion side Real Salt Lake, when the Galaxy allowed two second-half goals in losing, Steve Sampson's team saw rookie Ugo Ihemelu sent off in the 62nd minute. Then just minutes after he was shown red, Ronald Cerritos found the back of the net with an equalizing goal.
At that point, most teams would play defense in an attempt to take away a share of the points. Playing a man down for 30 minutes will test the resolve of any team, especially one with a somewhat fragile psyche seeing another lead disappear.
But the Galaxy showed great character, and came away victorious against the San Jose Earthquakes thanks to a 77th-minute goal from captain Pete Vagenas.
"It was vindication for sure," said Donovan. "If there is any scenario to score a goal in, that was the one, because I'm sure he felt bad after last week."
It was that goal that sent the Galaxy to a fifth consecutive win at home. The fact that it came being a man down is a sign of how this team has grown in just the last week.
One player especially grateful for his team's performance was Ihemelu. "We were down a player. We just came off losing a game 2-1," said the rookie. "We get scored on right after I get red-carded, and we fight back to get a goal. I think that says it all."
The whole tenor of the locker room was upbeat post game, as players and coaches alike were proud of the way their team finished the game.
"It shows great character," said Galaxy original Cobi Jones. "This is a solid team. We believe we can go a long way, and we have the aspects needed for a championship team."
Vagenas, who has been an unlikely source of offense this year, was humble as usual after the game, calling his goal a "stroke of luck". In reality, it was a well-taken header into the top half of the net that was his third of the season, tying a career high just seven games into the young campaign.
"This team is showing it can win different ways," he said. "It's good to find ways to win for a team looking for a championship."
And while the season is still very young, the Galaxy has managed to look like a championship side at times this year. But defensive mistakes have also been the undoing at times for L.A. and tonight was no exception.
Going down a man and then giving up a goal in a game that the Galaxy otherwise dominated didn't go unnoticed, but Donovan found a way to put a positive spin on things.
"We were lackadaisical on one play and they scored," said Donovan. "After that they really didn't have a real chance at goal, even thought they were up a man."
Next up is another contest with Columbus, who handed the Galaxy a humbling loss in the season opener. The character of the team will be tested again in that game as several starters will be absent with national team duty, and Ihemelu will be serving a suspension for his red card.
Greg Daurio is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.