SANTA CLARA, Calif. – The phrase “Never Say Die” was emblazoned on banners and headbands across Buck Shaw Stadium on Wednesday evening, the 80’s movie mantra that the San Jose Earthquakes have co-opted on their dramatic run to the Supporters’ Shield title. But in the decisive Western Conference Semifinal Second Leg, it was the LA Galaxy who took those words to heart.
LA faced long odds heading into Wednesday’s decisive match against an Earthquakes team that had gone unbeaten at the intimate confines of Buck Shaw and had not lost (3-0-1) in four games against the Galaxy in 2012. After a frantic start to the match that included cautions to either side and an injury to San Jose’s Defender of the Year candidate Victor Bernárdez, Robbie Keane opened the scoring for the Galaxy in the 21st minute, pulling his side level on aggregate at one goal apiece, and LA was off to the races.
Keane would add a second 13 minutes later before Mike Magee scored in the 39th to put the game so far out of reach that not even a late “Goonies” push through an Alan Gordon goal in the 82nd minute was enough to keep the Galaxy from advancing 3-2 on aggregate.
“We were confident that we could come here and win,” said midfielder David Beckham. “We hadn’t beaten this team all season, but we obviously beat them when it matters. We knew that we were coming here with confidence. Of course, losing the first game is not ideal preparation, but we won the one that matters.”
Keane and Magee may have gotten on the scoresheet for LA, but it was a complete performance for the Galaxy that saw off the Supporters’ Shield winners. Whether it was the steady play of Juninho, who was able to make an impact not with dramatic shots from distance, but active defensive play in front of LA’s back four, or timely stops by goalkeeper Josh Saunders, LA proved too much for San Jose.
However, the night belonged to LA’s center back pairing of Omar Gonzalez and Tommy Meyer. In just their sixth full game in central defense together, the duo appeared in sync, helping to shutdown MLS leading goal scorer Chris Wondolowski and the highly-physical Steven Lenhart.
Throughout the match, the pair overwhelmed the Earthquakes strikers, consistently winning first balls or shutting down second ball opportunities, limiting San Jose’s chances at goal. Gonzalez and Meyer also got into the attack as a Gonzalez header led to a Tommy Meyer pass up field that found Landon Donovan, starting the attack that end with Keane’s second goal of the night.
“Fantastic, the two center backs were great,” said Donovan. “Tommy became a man tonight and we’re going to need that, at least, two more times hopefully three more times out of him” if the Galaxy wants to win MLS Cup again.
“If he plays like that, we have a good chance.”
With the victory under their belt, the Galaxy remain the lowest seed left in the Western Conference, but after seeing off the Earthquakes, LA are full of confidence heading into their fourth consecutive Western Conference Championship appearance.
“This is when it really matters, when it really counts,” said Keane. “This year against them we were certainly the better team in every game that we played, but it’s about winning games isn’t it? It wasn’t to be in the last few games, but when it really matters, that’s when it counts and that was tonight.”
Adam Serrano is the LA Galaxy Insider. Read his blog at LAGalaxy.com/Insider and contact him at LAGalaxyInsider@Gmail.com