By Brian Kowalski
Carson, Calif. -- Following a thrilling 3-1 playoff win against Real Salt Lake earlier this week, the LA Galaxy hosted the Colorado Rapids on Sunday before a crowd of 24,487 in the first leg of the Western Conference semifinals. The Galaxy fielded the same group of players that led to Wednesday’s victory, as the team faced a Rapids squad that got the better of them in the regular season, holding LA to one goal in three games.
Both teams competed hard at the start and were vying for the upper hand.
In the 8th minute, Colorado passed the ball wide and then passed in to Dominique Badji for a shot from the top of the 18-yard box, but his shot was a little wide.
In the 12th minute, Landon Donovan got the ball and passed wide to Robbie Rogers, who was fouled. Head referee, Drew Fischer, stopped the play, but Donovan already had crossed the ball into the box and Alan Gordon scored on a header. The goal was called off, leaving Bruce Arena and his staff irate over the decision.
Another questionable decision was made in the 19th minute when a long ball played to Alan Gordon beyond midfield resulted in a foul for holding Jared Watts, but it was actually Watts being physical with Gordon.
The Galaxy had another scoring attack in the 22nd minute, when Sebastian Lletget beat his man and shot at Colorado goalkeeper Tim Howard. Lletget’s shot was a good, low driven one, but Howard secured it in time.
In the 36th minute, Gordon received a cross and the ball fell inside the box after a battle with a Rapid defender. Emmanuel Boateng picked it up and took a shot that Howard barely stopped for the save, keeping it a scoreless game.
“They played collectively as a group," said Galaxy coach Bruce Arena of Colorado. "They’re hard to break down. Most games they’re in are 1-0.”
At the start of the second half, Colorado subbed in Jermaine Jones with the hope that he might make an impact like he did for New England in the 2014 MLS Cup against the Galaxy.
The second half proved as intense as the first half, with each side battling for every inch on the field.
However, in the 55th minute, the Galaxy were in the final third of the field when Jelle Van Damme poked the ball around his defender just outside the box and then passed to Giovani dos Santos whose header was deflected by a Rapids defender, but went into goal past Howard for a 1-0 Galaxy lead.
“I think it was a great play by Jelle [Van Damme] then he crossed it to me and I just tried to put my head and it went in so I’m happy for that,” said dos Santos.
The Rapids nearly answered in the 59th minute when Jones made a strong shot on goal from about 25 yards out, but an outstretched Brian Rowe was able to keep the ball out by slightly deflecting it with his hand. Jones fouled Robbie Rogers with a reckless challenge seconds later and got a yellow card.
During the second half, Bruce Arena brought on Mike Magee and Robbie Keane to produce more goals. Magee had a great attacking opportunity in the 79th minute when Landon Donovan stole the ball at midfield, dribbled up and crossed it to the other side of the pitch to Magee. Magee controlled the ball and shot at goal to the lower far post, but Howard made the save.
“His passing was very good," said Arena of Donovan. "He was in good spots defensively. I think his ability to help us keep the ball, hold on to the ball, make the pass at the right times are important. It gives us a little bit of a breather and allows us to collect our team and get forward in the attack. He’s done a real good job for us.”
LA eventually would earn a 1-0 win over the Rapids, and will travel to Colorado next for the second leg on Sunday, where a winner will be determined for the right to play Seattle or Dallas in the Western Conference Finals.
“We’re a force at home," said Howard. "We’re going to need to do it again. There’s no Monday morning next week, so we have to do the business on Sunday.”