HARRISON, N.J. – The word “disgrace” was batted all around the LA Galaxy locker room on Sunday following the team’s 1-0 win over New York in the first leg of their Western Conference Semifinal at Red Bull Arena.
Goalkeeper Josh Saunders used it. Landon Donovan did, too. But they certainly weren’t discussing their own performance in the edgy, hard-earned road victory.
Rather, they were describing the fireworks that erupted after the final whistle, when Red Bulls midfielder Rafa Márquez hurled the game ball at Donovan near midfield.
“I saw it,” said Donovan, “and I think Adam [Cristman] saw it as well. So Adam was sticking up for his teammate.”
Cristman immediately confronted Márquez and sparks flew. As the Mexican international appeared to attempt a head butt and a haymaker (neither landed) before falling to the turf, LA midfielder Juninho and New York defender Stephen Keel rushed in. Just like that, it was a full-blown melee at midfield.
When the dust settled, Márquez and Juninho were red-carded. Both players will miss the second leg in Los Angeles on Thursday.
The game had been physical, with several meaty tackles launched across the sodden pitch, which had absorbed a snowstorm the night before. But had this kind of trouble been brewing?
According to Donovan, who did not mince words, the answer was yes.
“There a few plays where they took some cheap shots at us,” he told reporters after the match. “In all my years in this league, I’ve not played against a cheaper team, and they’ve been doing it all year. We saw it a few weeks ago with [Thierry] Henry kneeing someone in the back. We’ve seen that stuff all year. You just deal with it, and at the end of it, the cream rose to the top, and the better team won.”
Clearly, the temperature in this rivalry is on the rise. New York coach Hans Backe was notably terse in his postgame comments, insisting his Red Bulls can win the second leg at the Home Depot Center.
Mike Magee, who scored the game’s only goal off an assist from David Beckham, was less inclined to give bulletin-board material.
Asked if New York has chippy play as “part of their makeup,” as Donovan said, Magee emphatically denied it.
“No, no – they’re a good soccer team,” the former Red Bulls player said. “We lost our heads, too, so we can’t point the finger at them.”
Whatever you think of the character in the New York locker room, this rivalry, and Thursday’s second leg, are now officially appointment viewing.
WATCH: Postgame scuffle breaks out between NY and LA