Los Angeles are practically tasting the playoffs after a win over Chicago.CARSON, Calif. -- The Los Angeles Galaxy took an important step to the playoffs, riding a Landon Donovan goal to victory over the Chicago Fire in a close and contentions match.
Both teams were in second place in their respective conferences, with the playoffs tantalizingly close at hand, so the two squads had a lot of motivation in the game.
The Galaxy started off lively from the opening whistle, while the Fire, perhaps missing their midfield maestro Cuauhtemoc Blanco, seemed at bit tentative.
In the 19th minute, Donovan took a shot from 20 feet that sizzled just wide of the left post.
Three minutes later, nice interchanges from the Galaxy players resulted in an open Chris Klein receiving the ball in the box, but his low shot was straight to Fire goalkeeper Jon Busch, who made the save.
Perhaps the early flurry of chances disheartened the Galaxy, or perhaps the close calls woke up the Fire. Either way, Chicago asserted themselves for a good stretch, relying on excellent team play and the tricky runs of speedy Justin Mapp and Marco Pappa to threaten the Los Angeles goal.
Mapp fired off his first shot in the 26th minute, but the attempt was deflected.
Foward Brian McBride tested LA goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts with a shot a minute later, but the Jamaican keeper was up to the challenge.
The unsung hero of earlier Fire games, Peter Lowry, also put a try on goal that was deflected.
In the 33rd minute, Fire defender Wilman Conde went down with an injury, drawing boos from the unsympathetic crowd, as the Galaxy were having a nice run of possession at the time. The damage seemed to have resulted on a collision with his own goalkeeper a minute earlier, as Conde and Busch both left to clear a Lewis cross in the box.
Fighting off the domination of the Fire, the Galaxy again got going with a Buddle shot that was high, but showed attacking activity again by the home team.
In that same minute, however, Ricketts was forced by Marco Pappa into another save.
The Fire earned a corner in the 37th minute, and the Peter Lowry service was cleared directly to Pappa, who took a shot from about 30 yards out. Despite the traffic of players in the box, the ball shot through, only to be collected by Ricketts.
The Fire and Galaxy traded build-up chances in the 40th minute, with the Galaxy coming up short on the final flick pass from Buddle to Donovan. The Fire raced the other way, where their own opportunity was squandered at the top of the box by a weak Lowry shot straight to Ricketts.
As both teams created chances, the question of who could finish left open the answer of who would have the first goal. Los Angeles turned out to have that determination.
However, it came off what started as another Fire opportunity. A Nyarko charge into the box led to another corner in the 42nd. Lowry took the corner, which was cleared out by Beckham to Donovan, who dropped the ball off to Klein and was off to the races. Klein hit a long pass just as Donovan was even with the last defender, who fell on the play, leaving Donovan to calmly chip the ball over a charging Busch.
Undeterred, the Fire marched right down the field on the next play. Scrappy defending by the Galaxy denied a shot opportunity, however, and Los Angeles made it to the break with their lead intact. Birchall was given a yellow card for a hard foul, however, in the 45th minute.
A fired-up Chicago squad, perhaps frustrated about the opportunities they had left begging in the opening period, lowered the boom on the Galaxy as soon as the whistle blew. Pushing up with numerous players, they created sustained pressure on the Galaxy goal.
Klein was given a yellow card in the 64th minute, as the Galaxy were forced into tough fouls to blunt the Fire attack.
Despite the amount of time the ball spent in the Los Angeles half of the field, Chicago were still unable to break through. The Galaxy also began to find their chances on occasional counterattack breaks.
A De La Garza cross to Buddle in the 72nd minute led to a header opportunity that went wide of goal.
Perhaps the Galaxy's best chance at securing the all-important insurance goal came in the 75th minute, when the Galaxy earned a corner. The ball bounced up from Beckham's service, but came out to Donovan, who cracked a volleyed shot on goal that Busch kept out with a marvelous save.
The Fire again desperately threw players forward in search of the equalizer.
Beckham himself took a crack at goal in the 87th minute, striking a knuckling shot that Busch barely fisted over the crossbar.
As the ball cleared out from the corner, Donovan hit a looping pass to Beckham who tried to settle the ball, but was pushed off by a CJ Brown forearm shiver. An incensed Beckham tackled Brown hard, and got into his face afterward, but was quickly pulled away by teammate and late sub Alan Gordon.
Two foul calls late in the game created golden chances for the Fire. The first was a foul on Sean Franklin near the box, though it seemed the defender had gotten to the ball. The other was a backpass violation called by the linesman, though the effort by Birchall did not appear to be a deliberate pass. Yet both chances were wasted by the Fire, as they could not convert either close freekick.
Long balls into the Galaxy half kept the LA fans anxious, whistling the referee long before the final whistle blew, but it finally did and left the Galaxy on the brink of the playoffs for the first time in three years. Los Angeles needs a win or draw by their city rivals Chivas USA versus DC United to clinch the postseason spot.
Andrea Canales, Goal.com
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