Soccer is a cruel game, and Chivas USA felt that cruelty tonight. While the Galaxy may have done enough to win the game, Chivas did not deserve to lose it. On the pitch, the differences between Chivas and the Galaxy were small and on the margins. Off the pitch, the difference in huge – the Galaxy will spend their week preparing to face Houston on Friday and Chivas will not. Some thoughts from Section 232:
Landon Donovan was a leader of men. Throughout his career, Donovan has been a bit of an enigma to many US fans. While few could ever doubt his skills as a player, there was always this nagging sense about him that he was soft. He was soft because he could not adjust to Germany (twice). He was soft because, as a member of the San Jose Earthquakes, he was the most talented player, but was always comfortable to let others take the lead. He was soft because in 2006 he looked ordinary for the US team when it mattered most. Over the past year, something has changed about Donovan, and it is all for the better. His effort, his desire to be in the forefront rather than the background, and his commitment to compete and challenge in every game has been extraordinary. Every player’s skills will desert them in some games, but commitment and effort are always a matter of choice. Sunday night, like he has all season, Donovan chose to never stop running, to put himself in positions to receive the ball, and to always try to do something useful with it. He did not always succeed, but his pass to Magee to create the penalty and his strike from the spot were movements from a man who oozes desire, and the rest of the team took his lead.
Chivas played with real fight, sometimes too much. Chivas badly wanted this game, and their desire was evident for all to see. Clearly, they walked into the HDC with a “give no quarter” attitude, and played a physical game. They wanted to make the Galaxy feel pressured at every moment and were not shy about putting a little extra into each tackle. Occasionally, Chivas were so intent on playing the man that they neglected to play the ball. I could not find the stat anywhere, but it seemed like the Galaxy had 60% of the possession, made Chivas chase, and eventually wore down a frustrated Chivas who took their anger out against the referee who seemed to call a decent game to me. For Chivas to get three yellow cards for dissent said far more about Chivas’ frustration than it did about the refereeing.
Both back lines did really well. Last week, both back lines spent the games figuring out original ways to look foolish. Tonight, both lines were tough as nails. While the Galaxy had some better looks at goal, they were all from the top of the box at best. Chivas’ Yamith Cuesta battled Edson Buddle all night and never gave him one good look at goal. At the other end, Omar Gonzalez put his nightmare playoff debut behind him and stood tall all night. On the couple of occasions that Maicon Santos turned Gonzalez, Omar chugged back and disrupted his shot. In the end, Chivas had only two shots on goal the entire night. Chivas has a remarkable 10 corner kicks, but the Galaxy marked well and none of the corners ended up causing GK Donovan Rickets a bit of trouble.
Beckham was in the background, until his moment of brilliance. For the most part, Beckham was mediocre. His passing was a little forced and lacked some sharpness. He had the best scoring chance of the game with an open shot 12 yards from goal and sent it straight over the bar. Then, in the 69th minute, the Galaxy broke, and Beckham released Donovan with a 40 yard cross-field pass that beautifully evaded the defenders and landed at Donovan’s feet so softly that you could hear the crowd suck in its breath at the sight of it. Donovan then sent in a neat chip to Magee, and rather than kick the ball at Magee’s feet, Cuesta made strong contact with a different ball a little higher up. Penalty. Game. Whatever Beckham’s faults as a member of the Galaxy (and those faults are well categorized by many commentators, including myself) it is hard to imagine any other player in the MLS making that kind of pass.
The Galaxy/Dynamo game on Friday should be a classic.