ALAJUELA, Costa Rica — Pablo Gabas converted a first-half free kick as hosts Liga Deportiva Alajuelense beat the LA Galaxy 1-0 on Wednesday night in CONCACAF Champions League play to take a commanding perch atop the Group A table.
Gabas and Alajuelense were buoyed by a hostile crowd at the old but sturdy Estadio Alejandro Morera Soto as Liga faithful packed the stadium well before kickoff and greeted the Galaxy with whistles, obscene gestures and vulgar language.
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Aside from the significance of the match, LA's visit here created a stir throughout Costa Rica as David Beckham made his first-ever trip to Central America and played in this part of the world for the first time.
The Galaxy nearly silenced the crowd in the fourth minute when Beckham fired a long ball into the middle of the penalty area to Mike Magee, who rifled a shot on goal. Patrick Pemberton made the save but left the rebound. Donovan placed a soft shot on goal but hit the post.
Finally, the hosts broke through with a well-placed free kick. Team captain Gabas lined up a 27-yard shot on goal and placed it right into the upper left corner of the net, past Josh Saunders' outsretched arms. The goal sent the sold-out crowd into a fury as fans climbed the fence separating the councourse and the field to cheer on Liga.
The Galaxy tried to deal with a charged-up crowd and did what they could to hold the hosts to one goal entering the break.
But Alajuelense, meanwhile, resorted to some of the beautiful game's uglier tactics to try and milk time from the clock. Goalkeeper Patrick Pemberton collapsed to the ground after seamlessly clearing a ball away off a corner kick early in the second half, setting the tone for La Liga's antics in the final 45 minutes.
Pemberton was eventually booked for delaying a goal kick but his teammates were more than happy to risk yellow cards throughout the second half, taking their time on throw-ins and set pieces.
Beckham was also booked midway through the second half, meaning he will miss the Galaxy's next CCL match against Morelia at The Home Depot Center on Sept. 28.
Ultimately, though, the hosts were able to accomplish what they set out to do. The Galaxy had no answer for Alajuelense's firmly packed defense as they fell for the second consecutive time in this tournament.