It was a back-and-forth Western Conference Wild Card game Thursday night at the Home Depot Center, as the LA Galaxy defeated the Vancouver Whitecaps 2-1. Second half goals from Mike Magee and Landon Donovan erased the first half lead Vancouver held for most of the match, courtesy of Darren Mattocks’ strike.
The Whitecaps took a shock lead to begin the match. On their first and one of the only trips into the Galaxy’s half in the first 45 minutes, Matt Watson made a nice run to beat Hector Jimenez along the left before sending a pass back into the box to Mattocks, whose one-timer beat Josh Saunders in just the third minute. From there, the Whitecaps conceded nearly all of the possession to the Galaxy for the remainder of the half and tried to snuff out every chance.
LA continued to raise the pressure over the course of the second half, but they were not particularly sharp with their chances through the first hour. Still, they persisted, especially after the attacking trio of Watson, Kenny Miller, and Barry Robson each muffed a terrific opportunity in the 68th minute to double Vancouver's lead. That may have been the turning point of the game, as David Beckham's corner kick in the 69th minute was taken with a short pass to Juninho, who then put a cross into the box that Magee finished with a thumping volley.
The Galaxy seemed to take relief from the equalizer, and then they followed that up with the go-ahead goal just a few minutes later. Martin Bonjour replaced an injured Jay DeMerit a minute before he collided with Donovan in the box and the Galaxy star went to ground in Vancouver's box. Referee Silviu Petrescu pointed to the penalty spot, and Donovan converted in in the 74th minute, completing the comeback for the hosts.
Although it seemed to be a risk, the physical nature of the game never got out of hand, although it should be noted that Petrescu allowed many persistent fouls to go. This approach appeared to favor Vancouver, who are known for being a team that frequently fouls opponents, but the referee was unafraid to call the penalty for the Galaxy. Both sides had penalty shouts during the course of the game, but in the end, only one penalty was awarded, and that made the difference in this game.
The Galaxy will now face the top-seeded San Jose Earthquakes Sunday in the first leg of the Western Conference semifinals. The Whitecaps are going home, after taking a shock lead but failing to hang on for the entire match.