Man of the Match: In a match that required a tough mindset, where physical was paramount to technical ability, Galaxy striker Robbie Keane managed to occupy defenders and to create a little while doing his part in the hand-to-hand combat that played out all over Buck Shaw Field. He also wiggled free for the Galaxy’s first goal.
Packaged for take-away:
- You could look at it as one of two things: It was either a good, tough, hard-nosed game, where referee Jair Marrufo allowed both teams “to play,” as they say. Or you could ask: Is this that Major League Soccer wants its game to be, tugging jerseys, impeding runs off the ball, lots of flying hands and elbows, silly schoolyard scuffles, plenty of needless little kicks and stomps behind the play, too many rhythm-disrupting stoppages to attend to injuries, etc. Take your pick I suppose.
- At least the mascot didn’t get involved in any of the melees. That actually happened last time these sides met. Not making it up!
- Either way, the Galaxy managed Job One when meeting the Earthquakes, to match the Supporters Shield winner’s aggression in 50-50 balls, on second balls and on overall physicality. Better organized in the midfield and determined to dish it out as much as they needed to take it, the Galaxy made sure San Jose struggled to punch their way forward on offense.
- More to the point, both Galaxy center backs, Omar Gonzalez and rookie Tommy Meyer, did a good job of being extra physical with Stephen Lenhart, who still managed to be an effective target man at times, but only when he had time and room to create the timely separation. But by dealing with him physically, they took some of the initiative away from Lenhart. So the dynamic we usually see, defenders getting frustrated while dealing with Major League Soccer version of the Geico Mayhem commercial,
- The Galaxy, being opportunistic, weren’t far off with three early shots from long range. In the 9th minute, Christian Wilhelmsson just missed wide after being put clean through wonderfully by Juninho.
- In the 22nd, Robbie Keane put Edson Buddle through, although Earthquakes goalkeeper Jon Busch handling the situation well, quick off his line to add pressure and blocking Buddle’s effort. So, the Galaxy was easily the most dangerous side over the first 45 minutes, taking 11 of the game’s first 13 shots.
- David Beckham was out, still recovering from an ankle injury, according to the team’s Twitter feed. Of course, there is no mention of Beckham’s ailment on the injury report. So, again, the Galaxy play fast and loose with the injury report rules with no apparent action from the league.
- In all honesty, Marcelo Sarvas and Juninho are good enough in the center that the Galaxy doesn’t desperately miss Beckham. The offense isn’t as diverse or direct without him, but it doesn’t suffer too much in the run of play. Where the side does miss the former England captain is on restarts; his ability to hit those precision corners and free kicks does, in fact, add something to L.A.’s ability to produce goals.
- San Jose’s central defensive enforcement arm, Victor Bernardez, was every bit as imposing and effective.
- The Earthquakes needed 50 minutes to pose any serious threat to Josh Saunders in the Galaxy goal, and that was on a Gonzalez boo-boo. The big center back lost focus and allowed a simple ball to bounce past him. Wondolowski pounced and nailed a left-footed shot off the post from 22 yards.
- Immediately after, Mike Magee saved a Wondolowski header off the line, and quickly thereafter came the mother of all goal-mouth scrambles. It really was on the comical side, as the ball spent about 10 seconds in a tangle of bodies more than a couple of feet outside the Galaxy goal.
- The home team’s smart change was moving balls quicker to the outside and trying to attack the flanks, rather than channeling things into Lenhart to start the thrusts. But in opening up the game just a bit, they also left themselves exposed. Just a shade, perhaps, but enough for the Galaxy to find two goals off crosses from the flanks.
- Hence, a game that was scoreless at the break turned into 2-2.
- The Galaxy’s movement inside the 18 and runs for crosses are consistently among the league’s best. So it was with the breakthrough goal, as Wilhelmsson pulled defender Ramiro Corrales to the near post while Keane worked the space shrewdly between two defenders in the middle, splitting the distance just right to latch onto Buddle’s cross.