CARSON, Calif. – When the final whistle blew in Sunday’s Western Conference semifinal match between the LA Galaxy and New York Red Bulls, the return leg promised some fireworks.
Then Rafa Márquez threw a ball at Landon Donovan, and whatever second-leg drama was in store was multiplied by 1,000.
The postgame incident marred the end of the Galaxy’s 1-0 win over the Red Bulls, and the fallout will certainly have an effect on LA come Thursday. Just how much remains to be seen, but Galaxy players said they left whatever hostile feelings remaining from the incident at Red Bull Arena.
“We’re all professionals. It’s passed us right now,” Galaxy defender A.J. DeLaGarza said. “We are going to have to play it like we have the whole year.”
The Galaxy, though, did not encounter a situation like the postmatch incident on Sunday. Aside from the usual heated in-game moments, nothing this season spilled over and caused the Galaxy to react with aggression. Juninho was sent off for an elbow on Red Bulls defender Stephen Keel and will miss Thursday’s game, while Márquez will also be absent for New York.
Beyond Juninho’s supsension, though, Galaxy players insist no more damage will be done from the incident.
“It’s behind us, without a doubt,” defender Todd Dunivant said. “It was a silly incident. It was disappointing that we reacted the way did. We have to be smarter than that.”
Immediately after the match, Galaxy captain Landon Donovan said the Red Bulls’ tactics were cheap and called the incident a “disgrace.” While head coach Bruce Arena refused to comment on Donovan’s words, Dunivant said he agreed with them.
“Landon speaks his mind. I stand by our captain,” Dunivant said. “I don’t really have anything to say about it.”
Neither Dunivant nor DeLaGarza were involved in the incident. In fact, each player was well removed from it. Dunivant had bolted down the tunnel while DeLaGarza was chatting with Dane Richards about Clemson’s 2-1 win over Maryland earlier in the weekend – DeLaGarza went to Maryland while Richards attended Clemson.
It was not until later that Dunivant saw exactly what had happened.
“It was one of those things that it happened, seeing it back on replay was pretty mind-boggling,” Dunivant said. “We’ve got to be smart. We can’t fall for those antics.”
While the Galaxy were unprepared to handle such an incident – what to do when an opponent throws a ball at the team’s captain was not exactly talked about in pregame meetings – the team should have done more to prevent the situation from escalating.
The only thing the club can do now is to take that incident as a learning experience.
“Just speaking for our team,” said Arena, “our players could have handled it better at the end of the game. I think the officiating crew could have handled it better at the end of the game. I think I could have handled it better at the end of the game. It’s just something you learn from and get on from there.”