Mike Magee scored early on and the Galaxy were able to hold off the home side in a heated game that ended with a fight.HARRISON, N.J. – In a playoff match that featured Major League Soccer's biggest stars, David Beckham provided the game's brightest moment.
The most popular player in the league assisted Mike Magee's game-winner in the 15th minute as the LA Galaxy held on for a 1-0 win over the New York Red Bulls in the first leg of the Western Conference semifinal series.
Beckham unlocked New York’s defense 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 on the play.
"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 the 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 postseason opener.
Los Angeles has relied on its brick-wall defense throughout the season to grind out results and it 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 it couldn't find way to execute 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 equalize but Saunders held firm on each play. Carlos Mendes had a header that just sailed past Saunders in the 88th minute above the goal. Saunders 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 at 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 energized the crowd of 22,663.
The highly anticipated playoff match between the star-studded teams did not disappoint in the first leg. It was tightly contested affair with a combined 14 fouls as both sides played physically in their tackles.
New York had a strong game offensively managing 15 shots versus Los Angeles' eight and retaining possession 58.9 percent of the time. Yet, its 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."