Defending champs forced to regroup after last minute winner from San Jose.
Despite ceding the majority of possession and shots to the LA Galaxy, San Jose emerged from the Home Depot Center Sunday night with yet another dramatic win. This one was courtesy of a Victor Bernardez stoppage-time goal to seize a crucial advantage in the first leg of the Western Conference semifinals.
Bernardez’s 94th minute free kick winner accomplished two things. First, it reaffirmed the team’s “Goonies never say die” mantra, bestowed by scrappy forward Steven Lenhart. And in the other locker room, it served as another reminder to the Galaxy that despite playing well, their Northern California rivals seem to have their number this season.
“Probably a boogie team at the moment,” said Galaxy forward Robbie Keane, whose 86th minute strike rattled the crossbar in a play symbolic of the home team’s night.
In three prior meetings this season the Galaxy had lost two and drawn one against their northern neighbors, despite holding leads in each of the games. Sunday the Galaxy dominated the ball with 57 percent possession, and out-shot the Earthquakes 10 to five (although the Quakes put three on target to the Galaxy’s two), but the visitors won a late free kick and made it count. Bernardez’s low drive from 30 yards out skipped under the Galaxy wall and squirmed past goalkeeper Josh Saunders to silence a boisterous crowd.
After the game, Galaxy coach Bruce Arena was adamant that the free kick never should have been given for a Marcelo Sarvas foul on Simon Dawkins. But several players declined to blame referee Ricardo Salazar for the outcome.
“During the game we didn’t think it was a foul, and I think if you asked Ricardo again I think he’d probably say it was a mistake, he shouldn’t have called it,” Galaxy captain Landon Donovan said. “But we still had a chance to get our wall together and do a better job, and those kind of plays happen.”
Others said the team simply needed to play better.
“I think we weren’t at our best tonight,” defender Omar Gonzalez said. “We had a lot of passes that just didn’t get to their place, a lot of passes that went out of bounds and things like that, so we’ve got to be a lot sharper.”
After absorbing the initial shock of losing yet again deep in stoppage time, the defending MLS champions expressed confidence that the deficit could be overcome on the second leg.
“On Wednesday it’s up to us to show some character,” Keane said. “We’ve done it before, and we know we can score against anybody.”
Midfielder David Beckham said the result was unfortunate but not insurmountable.
“Our mindset doesn’t change going into the game [Wednesday],” Beckham said. “Whether it was nil-nil, or obviously the result that we got. We still felt that we’d always have to go to San Jose and win the game.
“It’s just tough to concede that late in the game. But they’ve come here and beat us, there’s no reason we can’t go there and beat them.”
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