SANTA Clara, Calif. – Omar Gonzalez’s past with Steven Lenhart is well-documented, but in Wednesday night’s Western Conference Semifinal Second Leg, it was the LA Galaxy center back that had the last laugh as LA defeated the San Jose Earthquakes, 3-1 and 3-2 on aggregate.
Gonzalez and Lenhart tangled repeatedly throughout the match, with the two each being awarded yellow cards for their battles – Gonzalez earning his in the 41st minute for a forearm to the back of Lenhart and the Earthquakes striker picking one up a minute later after shoving Gonzalez to the pitch.Histrionics aside, Gonzalez was dominated the Earthquakes forward from start to finish as his size and quickness frequently proved too much for the physical San Jose forward. Perhaps Gonzalez's finest moment against Lenhart came in the 81st minute when the Earthquakes striker appeared to have a clear shot at goal after cutting around the defense, but Gonzalez was able to make a last second block to direct the shot out of play.
“It was a tough battle,” Gonzalez said of his match up with Lenhart. “You guys saw it. I think that I got the better of him today. It just feels good. We finally put this team down.”
With Lenhart and forward Chris Wondolowski struggling to find the back of the net, the Galaxy capitalized with three goals in the first half, two from Robbie Keane and one by Mike Magee to put the game out of reach for San Jose. Although Alan Gordon would find the back of the net to cut the score to 3-1, it wasn’t enough for the Earthquakes.
“It’s amazing. They did well during the year, but they couldn’t pull it off tonight,” said Gonzalez after the match. “It just felt great to hear that whistle blow, and just to finally be over with those guys. We came out on top and I thought that they fought well. But they just couldn’t pull it off tonight.
In the few moments when the Earthquakes did get in behind the Galaxy back four, Gonzalez’s center back partner Tommy Meyer was up to the task. Repeatedly the young centerback was able to match the Earthquakes’ physicality, even though San Jose’s had targeted him for much of the match. But if it wasn’t Meyer then it was goalkeeper Josh Saunders, right back Sean Franklin or Todd Dunivant, who were able to make the timely saves to keep San Jose off the board for much of the game.
“I just think that our guys came out a lot more confident than them. We did a great job of sticking together in the back, being really close, and just challenging for everything. I think that most of our guys won the 50-50 battles.
But even when Gordon scored to move the game to just a single Earthquakes goal of extratime, Gonzalez made sure that LA’s defense held to prevent any late magic.
“Tonight wasn’t their night,” said Gonzalez. “You can do that all year, but when you need it is tonight and they couldn’t do it.”