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San Jose Earthquakes Beat LA Galaxy 1-0, Renewing MLS Rivalry In Playoffs

Omar Shamout |
November 4, 2012 | 10:27 p.m. PST

Senior Sports Reporter

Landon Donovan will face his former team once again Wednesday. (RegularDaddy/Wikimedia Commons)
Landon Donovan will face his former team once again Wednesday. (RegularDaddy/Wikimedia Commons)
CARSON, Calif. -- When most people think of heated rivalries between Los Angeles and the Bay Area, baseball is probably the first sport that comes to mind.

Major League Soccer’s “California clasico” between the L.A. Galaxy and San Jose Earthquakes is slowly forcing itself into the conversation.

On Sunday, San Jose beat L.A., 1-0, in the Western Conference semifinals thanks to a 30-yard Victor Bernardez free kick deep into extra time. 

The shot flew underneath the Galaxy’s defensive wall, deflecting off defender Omar Gonzalez. Goalkeeper Josh Saunders looked to have it covered, but the ball squirmed past him and across the goal line.

The goal came after referee Ricardo Salazar awarded San Jose a free kick outside the Galaxy penalty area, judging L.A. midfielder Marcelo Sarvas guilty of fouling forward Simon Dawkins.

Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena saw things differently.

“If that’s a foul in this game, then there’s a hundred fouls,” Arena said.

Both teams still have everything to play for, however. The deciding match will be played Wednesday at Buck Shaw Stadium in San Jose and the team with the most goals after two games will move on to the conference finals.

Late-game heroics are nothing new to this hard-fought rivalry and neither is controversy.

The teams played three rollercoaster matches in the regular season, in which the Galaxy surrendered leads on each occasion. Before tonight’s match, Galaxy captain Landon Donovan said the team wanted to change.

“That’s a team we played really well this year,” he said. “We were up two goals in the first two games and ended up losing, and we were up a goal twice in the third game and ended up tying. “If … we can learn from those lessons then we feel we have a chance in this series.”

They may not have blown a lead, but tonight’s result shows that the Galaxy still have some work to do if they want to best their neighbors to the north.

When looking at the rivalry’s history, Donovan’s career reveals much of the California clasico story. 

The striker first entered the league with San Jose, making 87 appearances for the side between 2001 and 2004. He scored 32 goals as an Earthquakes player and led the team to two MLS Cup championships in his first and third seasons.

Donovan scored the opening goal of MLS Cup 2001 – a game that San Jose won, 2-1. The Earthquakes’ opponent that day was none other than the L.A. Galaxy. 

The fires were stoked again in the conference semifinals two years later. When analyzing series, current Galaxy fans would find a remarkably familiar – and discouraging – narrative.

After the Galaxy tallied the opening four goals, Donovan’s Earthquakes mounted an epic comeback in the second leg to win 5-4 on aggregate, scoring all their goals in the final 70 minutes.

Donovan first played in the clasico as a member of the Galaxy in 2005. He helped LA beat San Jose the playoffs for the first time that year, coming up with two crucial goals in the conference semifinals. LA won, 4-2, on aggregate.

On Thursday, Donovan said that level of intensity is what the playoffs are all about. 

“It’s more fun,” he said. “This is what everyone wants to see and it’s certainly what we want.”

But Galaxy defender Omar Gonzalez had a different opinion of what it’s like to play San Jose. After the teams’ 2-2 draw on Oct. 22, Gonzalez criticized San Jose’s physical, long-ball style of soccer. 

“I think those guys are a bunch of jokes, the way they play the game,” Gonzalez told his club’s website. “It was just obnoxious.”

Gonzalez said he was upset referee Jair Marrufo didn't whistle San Jose forward Steven Lenhart for a foul as the two battled for position in the 60th minute of that regular-season game.

“I would say it was a foul on me,” Gonzalez said. “My eyes were directly on the ball … I got hit. But Jair said I fell on him.”

He claimed San Jose players routinely make fouls off the ball during games.

“It all starts when the ball's on the other side of the field, and you're just running and all of a sudden you get blindsided,” he said. “You just get checked by Lenhart or something. Dumb [expletive] like that happens every time, and that's not the way the game should be played. It's embarrassing.”

When asked about Gonzalez this week, Lenhart delivered a curt evaluation of the defender’s impact.

“I feel like you’re assuming (Gonzalez) is really dominant,” Lenhart told MLS.com. “I’m not comfortable assuming these things.”

San Jose head coach Frank Yallop, who also coached the Galaxy from 2006 to 2007, was more diplomatic in his response to Gonzalez’s comments.

“The league has not phoned us once about Scott Lenhart [and] off-the-ball incidents,” Yallop said to the league’s website. “If he’s playing within the rules, which he is, it’s up to the players to get on with it and the referees to call it if they think it’s a foul.”

Gonzalez sounded more contrite after Sunday’s tough loss in which the Galaxy controlled most of the possession and outshot San Jose, 12-8.

“We weren’t at our best tonight,” Gonzalez said. “We had a lot of passes that just didn’t get to their place. We’ve got to be sharper.”

Donovan said the foul on Sarvas probably shouldn’t have been called, but added the team didn’t respond as it should have.

“I think if you asked Ricardo again, he’d probably say it was a mistake,” Donovan said. “But we still had a chance to get our wall together … sometimes you don’t get calls for you and you’ve got to do a job with the resulting free kicks.”

Before the series started, Donovan had kinder words than Gonzalez about the Earthquakes due to his personal history.

“I always hold a special place in my heart for that team and especially for Frank.”

Let’s see how Donovan’s heart feels at around 10pm Pacific Standard Time on Wednesday when the second leg wraps up.

Reach Senior Sports Reporter Omar Shamout via email or follow him on Twitter.









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