Beckham, Buddle the difference.
There was a tangible sense of anticipation simmering around PPL Park for the visit of the vaunted, league-leading L.A. Galaxy. In first place overall, and boasting the league’s top scorer, Edson Buddle, its most talented player, Landon Donovan, and of course, its most famous name, David Beckham, there was understandably a touch of celebrity about the visitors from the far coast.
And yet it was the industrious hosts who came out of the gate stronger. In just the second minute, the Union, adhering to their trademark pressuring strategy, nearly opened the scoring. Playing a quick one-two to bypass the Galaxy midfield, Fred played a through ball ahead of rookie phenom Danny Mwanga, forcing a risky rush from Donovan Ricketts to clear the ball away.
A long shot from Sebastien Le Toux tested the reflexes of Ricketts just a minute later, and shortly after that, last-ditch heroics were required to close down Stefani Miglioranzi from slotting home in the six-yard area.
And in the 18th, the Union again came agonizingly close with a gilt-edged chance. Andrew Jacobson’s short cross was right on the feet of Sebastien Le Toux, who charged towards the byline and delivered a sugar-coated ball into the middle of the Galaxy penalty area. Danny Mwanga, rushing forward with the goal at his mercy, was surely shocked to find that Sean Franklin had beaten him to the ball and cleared it to safety.
But the tide began to turn after that. A Michael Stephens cross intended for the threatening Buddle was cleared by Miglioranzi as Los Angeles asserted its power.
When a goal finally came, nobody could have been surprised by the participants. A swinging corner from the right foot that launched a global brand was met by the powerful head of the league’s leading scorer and the Galaxy were up 1-0.
Buddle almost doubled his tally as the half drew to a close. Chris Birchall drove a low ball across Brad Knighton’s goalmouth,. and the Philadelphia keeper could only turn in into Buddle’s path. The American international seemed certain to score, but a split second of hesitation allowed Knighton to scramble the ball away. A frantic clearance followed as Donovan sought to capitalize on the confusion caused by the goalmouth scrum.
The Union came out with more intensity in the second half. A long-range shot from Justin Mapp tested the reach of Ricketts just a few minutes after the restart.
Los Angeles responded in kind, with Franklin putting a shot well over Knighton’s post after beating Michael Orozco-Fiscal.
Mapp was again the instigator in the 57th. Charging purposefully down the right flank, his low through ball found the feet of Le Toux. The Galaxy defense was quick to respond, however, smothering Le Toux and dispossessing the Frenchman, leaving his frustration plainly visible.
Credit must be given to the Galaxy defense for their excellent job in holding back the dangerous attacking triumvirate of Le Toux, Mapp, and Mwanga. Omar Gonzalez, in particular, was a thorn in Danny Mwanga’s side all night.
The visitors were just as active, although less effective, at the other end a few minutes later. Unmarked, Edson Buddle should have done much better in space with a long, lofted ball, but he could only direct it into the side netting..
Ricketts came up huge for his side in the 73rd. A lightning quick move involving Le Toux, Mwanga, and Andrew Jacobson caught Los Angeles napping. Jacobson found Le Toux in the box, who seemed sure to score with a crafty backheel, but Ricketts somehow found a way to tip the shot away. He then stonewalled substitute Shea Salinas on a dangerous through ball just two minutes later.
Knighton wasn’t about to let his counterpart have all the heroics, however. Most MLS goalkeepers would wilt at the sight of Donovan on a breakaway, bearing down on their goal. Knighton, however, showed cat-like reflexes to get down and save Donovan’s shot.
With their fans raucous and rowdy and willing them forward, the Union pressed hard on the attack, pinning back the heavily favored Galaxy in the final minutes. But despite the furious, pulsing ten-minute spell at the tail end of the match, the Galaxy escaped with maximum points and their Supporters’ Shield campaign in fine shape.
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