TORONTO – As troubling as they were, the first 20 minutes of the Galaxy’s CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal match against Toronto FC on Wednesday night won’t leave a mark on the team or the series.
Instead, the team’s response to a terrible opening could fuel them going forward.
After overcoming an early 2-0 deficit, LA left Rogers Centre with a 2-2 draw, thanks to a late Landon Donovan equalizer. They now sit in a favorable position heading into the March 14 return leg at The Home Depot Center.
“We put ourselves in a bit of a tough situation, but our response to that was really good,” Donovan told reporters after the match. “It would have been a little bit cruel leaving there losing 2-1.”
Donovan equalizes in the 88th minute
The Galaxy have scored clutch goals in Champions League before. Tied with Morelia late in their home match against the Mexican side, they scored a late goal and nabbed a 2-1 victory in a match in which a draw would have killed their hopes. LA also got the goal they needed to advance to the knockout rounds when Juninho scored in a 1-0 win at Motagua in October.
Whether or not they could repeat those feats after going down on Wednesday night was of no concern. After all, the response that followed was what the players have always been capable of.
“That’s what we want to see from the players on our team,” midfielder David Beckham said. “When we’ve gone down, we battled back. I wasn’t worried at any point, even when we were 2-nil down. I thought we were going to create chances and score goals.”
Toronto FC took a 2-0 lead after 17 minutes as Ryan Johnson and Luis Silva knocked in goals from close range. The second goal – a header Silva slipped inside the far post when he got behind the LA defense – was akin to breaking some smelling salts underneath the Galaxy’s noses.
“It clearly woke us up,” Donovan said. “It didn’t feel like a 2-0 game at that point. We didn’t do a whole lot wrong but we made two mistakes, one on a corner and then not marking a guy on really a floated cross.”
Donovan started the comeback when he sent Sean Franklin free down the right flank, and the former Rookie of the Year found Mike Magee on the far post for a simple finish. In the second half, the Galaxy pressured Toronto FC even more and got their reward when Donovan stabbed home during a scramble following a corner kick.
“It felt like we were never going to get that goal,” Beckham said. “We had a lot of chances and we couldn’t put the ball in the back of the net. The ball didn’t roll sometimes for us. But we kept at it. I think we deserved the draw at least.”
The goal lifted the players’ spirits but they also kept a level head about it.
“It was a little bit of relief,” defender A.J. DeLaGarza said, “but we still have another 90 minutes to play.”
Luis Bueno covers the LA Galaxy for MLSsoccer.com and can be reached by email at email@example.com.