Mike Magee scored on the 15th minute for the visitors and the Galaxy were able to hold off Hans Backe's home side in a heated game that ended with a fightLA Galaxy held on for a 1-0 win over the New York Red Bulls in the first leg of the MLS Western Conference semi-final series.
David Beckham assisted Mike Magee's game-winner in the 15th minute as the visitors took a big step towards the final
Beckham unlocked New York’s defence early on with a pinpoint long-ball pass that freed up Magee in the penalty box to score the game’s only goal. The play’s sharp execution baffled New York’s defensive players, who assumed Magee was offside.
"I thought David had a really good first half," said Galaxy coach Bruce Arena. "His passing was pretty good."
Heading into the match, the Galaxy stressed that their one advantage over the Red Bulls was their consistency. After all, 21 points and nine places separated the teams in the standings at end of regular season, and the club felt that its successful formula would bode well heading into its post-season opener.
Los Angeles have relied on its brick-wall defence throughout the season to grind out results and they refused to stray away from that gameplan against the Red Bulls after Magee put the team on the board in the opening minutes.
New York remained aggressive throughout the match but couldn't find a way to finish in the final third despite several opportunities. Red Bulls captain Thierry Henry squandered an early sitter from just outside the box as he side-shot a pass from Joel Lindpere that rolled past Los Angeles goalkeeper Josh Saunders out of play.
Later in the game the team had four opportunities to equalise but Saunders held firm on each effort. Carlos Mendes had a header that just sailed past Saunders in the 88th minute above the goal. The 'keeper then blocked a rebounded shot from Henry, who showed his frustration a moment later as he shoved Sean Franklin who was leaning on the forward.
Frustrations clearly boiled over as a fight broke out shortly after the game.
Christman launched a punch on Mendes after Marquez had thrown the ball at the back of Landon Donovan. Juninho then followed up by elbowing Stephen Keel in the face. An MLS spokesperson announced after the match that both Marquez and Juninho received red cards after the game.
Referee Alex Prus could be held partially responsible for some of the tension on the field as he missed several calls against the visiting side.
Prus refused to call a foul on Omar Gonzales who clearly tugged on Rodgers near the box in the first half. In the second half, he didn’t call a foul on Rodgers by Franklin. Rodgers screamed an expletive at the referee that energised the crowd of 22,663.
New York had a strong game offensively managing 15 shots versus Los Angeles' eight and retaining possession 58.9 per cent of the time. Yet, their poor execution in the final third was magnified by having 10 shots off target.
"I told the guys that we still have 90 minutes to go and let's try to do the same thing that L.A. did to us. But it will be difficult," said Henry.
Despite the loss, Red Bulls coach Hans Backe believes that the team had its best performance against Los Angeles. He stated that if the club can maintain its direct style of play displayed in the second half, there is no reason why New York can't beat Los Angeles in the second leg.
"It was a great performance, one of our absolutely better games by far, for a couple of months," said Backe. "We totally controlled the game, dictated the game."
He added: "To me, this is totally wide open. If we can perform like this on Thursday, we have won before in L.A. and we can do it again."
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