It took nearly 70 minutes of 70 percent possession for the Galaxy to break down Vancouver, but LA showed the patience needed to crack the 'Caps.
The game kicked off with a dream start. Not for the LA Galaxy, mind. The Whitecaps scored within four minutes, on essentially their first attack, through Darren Mattocks. From there, all Martin Rennie's conservative lineup had to do was hold on for the clean sheet.
"If they could have written up the perfect game for them it would have been scoring in the third or fourth minute," Mike Magee said. That beginning represented something far less than ideal for the Galaxy. "If I was writing the script for the game it would not be: 'Vancouver gets a goal in the third or fourth minute'," LA coach Bruce Arena said.
From then on Vancouver bunkered deep at the Home Depot Center. Los Angeles held 69 percent of possession and couldn't break through until the 69th minute.
"They made it difficult," Robbie Keane said. "They had the two midfielders just literally just sit in front of the back four – didn't move for the whole game. We knew their intentions were to sit back."
Arena even yanked his nominal right back – Hector Jimenez, who Matt Watson burned to set up Mattocks' goal – for an even more nominal right back, midfielder Marcelo Sarvas.
"For the most part, Vancouver was playing with one or two forwards up high," Arena said. "We didn't need to be playing with four defenders."
The equalizer came from a scorching volley from Magee. David Beckham laid off a short corner to Juninho, who picked out Magee on the penalty spot. The playoffs might not see a better finish.
"We just got the sense that if we were patient and kept going that they were going to wear out," Donovan said. "Sure enough in the second half they started opening up a little. They couldn't keep defending the way they did in the first half and we were finally able to pick them apart."
Four minutes after Magee's goal, Donovan dispatched a penalty for the game winner. Substitute Martin Bonjour had only entered the game a few seconds earlier before crashing into the back of Donovan. The U.S. international thought that, and a foul in the last minute of the first half, was a legitimate penalty, even if Rennie disagreed.
"Sometimes there's plays where you know the contact's coming and you can anticipate it," Donovan said. "Both of those, I didn't really know contact was coming and then I was on the ground. They were pretty clear in my mind."
His goal cleared up the conference semifinal matchup. The Galaxy will face the San Jose Earthquakes in a two-legged tie, starting with a game in southern California on Sunday.
"We're in a good spot. We were asking for San Jose," Magee said. "That's the team, if you want to win it, you've got to beat them. That's going to have to happen.
"They're a team that, the past couple years that has always given us fits. They always seem to play their best against us. … We don't like them very much either.”
In the three meetings this year, the 'Quakes won two and drew another. Each game featured at least four goals.
So will the Galaxy's playoff experience tell once more, this time against the best team in the league?
"We're passionate," Donovan said. "We don't want to lose."
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