In a bit of a bizarre game with some great saves by both goalkeepers and a truly abysmal pitch, the Los Angeles Galaxy snatched a 1-0 win over the New York Red Bulls at Red Bull Arena, setting up the home side for an extremely difficult task in the second leg later this week at the Home Depot Center. Mike Magee scored the only goal of the game early in the first half, but both teams probably should have had more.
A snowstorm in the northeast dumped a lot of slushy, wet snow on the Red Bull Arena pitch, and the combination of that substance and the necessity to plow it led to the pitch at Red Bull Arena being almost completely trashed, to no fault of the grounds crew or RBNY organization. This made it very difficult to pass the ball on the ground and turned the game into an extremely sloppy one that featured plenty of slips by defenders.
Magee's goal came in the 15th minute, and New York's defending was shambolic. On a free kick, Magee was left completely unmarked as he ran onto a ball into the box from David Beckham. Red Bulls goalkeeper Frank Rost had terrible positioning and made little effort to make a save when Magee ripped it past him at a narrow angle. On every level, it was a terrible goal for the Red Bulls to give up.
This came just minutes after Magee missed a sitter following a hit of the post by surprise starter Robbie Keane. While the Irish international was impressive in the first half, he was obviously a bit tired from his recent lack of game time and had a poor second half before he was eventually removed for Chris Birchall in a defensive move.
The second half started with a flurry of chances for the Red Bulls, but they couldn't convert on any of them. Josh Saunders made two great saves as the Red Bulls created four clear-cut scoring chances in the first five minutes of the second half, with the other two being misses. These opportunities would be the best the Red Bulls had all game.
Rost redeemed himself slightly with a brilliant save on another slightly surprising starter, Landon Donovan, in the 56th minute. This chance followed a slip by Tim Ream, who had a poor match. Donovan looked fitter than Keane, but was also slightly off the pace and likely would have finished his chance on a different day. More likely than not, both Donovan and Keane will be looking fitter and quicker in the second leg, which doesn't bode well for New York's chances of reversing a 1-0 deficit. Ream and Stephen Keel struggled at home against players with questionable fitness, which is a seriously bad sign for Hans Backe's team.
Rafael Marquez was extremely poor on the night, but almost saved the day. In stoppage time, the former and still occasional Mexican national team captain hit a great shot from 25 yards out, but Josh Saunders came up big with a great save, sealing what should be a man of the match performance.
Unfortunately, after the final whistle, a fight broke out at the center of the pitch with Juninho and Adam Christman of the Galaxy, along with Keel and Marquez of the Red Bulls appearing to be the instigators. This has developed into a serious rivalry over the years and this was a physical match, so it's not surprising that tempers flared over a bit.
In any event, the Red Bulls were solid going forward, but didn't do enough to win. Their defense and goalkeeping fell apart at the worst possible time, while Saunders was arguably the best player on the pitch. The Galaxy will take a 1-0 lead home, and it would be surprising to see them fail to defend it.
For more on these two teams, check out LA Galaxy blog LAG Confidential and Red Bulls blog Once A Metro. We'll have live coverage of this game in our Red Bulls vs. Galaxy StoryStream. For more on the entire world of soccer and the rest of the MLS playoffs action, check out SB Nation Soccer.