CARSON, Calif. – The San Jose Earthquakes did it again, getting a goal late in stoppage to overcome the LA Galaxy, 1-0, in Sunday's opener of a Western Conference semifinal series at the Home Depot Center.
Víctor Bernárdez's 94th-minute free kick from 31 yards got through the Galaxy wall at the top of the box then goalkeeper Josh Saunders, who was unable to prevent the ball from rolling over the goal line.
It was the fifth time this season the Quakes have scored a stoppage-time winner, including the May 23 meeting with the Galaxy at HDC, in which Alan Gordon headed home a 94th-minute decider as San Jose rallied from a two-goal deficit for a 3-2 triumph.
It was an intense, defense-minded affair, with the Galaxy having more and better opportunities. Robbie Keane nearly broke the tie in the 86th minute, but his 26-yard blast caromed off the crossbar.
The Earthquakes will host the second leg of the series Wednesday at Buck Shaw Stadium, with the victor in the home-and-home affair taking on Seattle or Real Salt Lake in a two-game Western Conference final for a spot in the Dec. 1 MLS Cup final.
The Galaaxy, with right back Sean Franklin and midfielder Mrcelo Sarvas returning to the lineup and Landon Donovan partnering Keane up front, had the better chances while testing San Jose goalkeeper Jon Busch only one occasion. They didn't put a shot on frame until the 67th minute, when Busch parried a Franklin shot headed for the lower-left corner, as most of the action took place in the middle third.
Keane nodded a David Beckham free kick wide in the eighth minute, and Donovan forced Busch to the ground at the left post to make a stop in the 32nd – the shot looked like it was going wide – but LA otherwise struggled to connect, especially in the final third.
San Jose set an early, frantic pace but seemed content keeping things tight at the back. Attacking was an afterthought, and MLS scoring champion Chris Wondolowski never really got involved. The Quakes' most dangerous chance was a 40-yard Bernárdez free kick that Saunders parried at the start of the second half.
LA got caught up in the initial chaos, rarely linking more than a pass or two, and found it difficult to connect through Beckham, Donovan or Keane until a half-hour had passed. However, they began to take charge after that, creating a more deliberate pace.
San Jose coach Frank Yallop made two second-half substitutions to invigorate his attack, with Simon Dawkins coming on for Marvin Chávez in the 59th minute and Alan Gordon for Steven Lenhart six minutes later, but they had minimal impact. Bruce Arena brought on Edson Buddle for Beckham with about 15 minutes to go, and LA spent the rest of the game in and around San Jose's box without finding the net.
MLSsoccer.com Men of the Match
|Rank||Player||What We Saw|
|1||Victor Bernardez||Immense in the back, won everything in the air and finally got the luck he needed to give San Jose a vital series lead|
|2||Jason Hernandez||Provided a perfect complement to Bernardez, putting out plenty of fires in the back, especially in the first half|
|3||Omar Gonzalez||Will regret jumping on Bernardez's decisive free kick, but gave San Jose's vaunted attack no chance for 90 minutes|