Philadelphia picked up their first defeat late Saturday night, as Leonardo headed home a free kick from David Beckham and the Galaxy withstood a man deficiency for over a half an hour to make it happen.
In the first half, the Galaxy carried most of the offensive force. They were able to consistently get pressure into the final third. Set pieces were their danger thrust though, with good service from Beckham on both corners and free kicks. The Union was forced into many fouls in their end of the field. In the 33rd minute Beckham curled a free kick to Leonardo, who was left unmarked by Stefani Miglioranzi. His headed shot snuck just inside the left post for the 1-0 lead.
The remainder of the match was a bizarre attempt for referee Paul Ward to maintain control of a match fraught with physical play. His 53rd minute ejection of Chris Birchall was only the beginning. Three yellows were given for wasting time, the first to Donovan Ricketts at the hour mark being the most puzzling. The game devolved into a series of minor challenges and major embellishments, mostly brought about by the antics of Carlos Ruiz. His primary performace had resulted in the ejection of Birchall. At that point, it seemed both teams took a philosophy of theatrics at the moment of contact, and Ward seemed to play along with every flail and wince.
For Philadelphia, their half an hour man advantage resulted in no shots on goal, and only a couple of dangerous opportunities in front of net. A cross by Harvey was just out of the reach of Ruiz cutting into the box. A one-two between Le Toux and Ruiz just outside the area afforded the Frenchman a shot which was deflected by an LA defender. Nothing that the Union tried in the final third could test Ricketts. In fact, the best chances came on the counterattack for the Galaxy, as Juan Pablo Angel had two opportunities to put the game out of reach to no avail.
The man advantage for Philadelphia evaporated in another squabble, sending sub Jack McInerney to the showers early after punching substitute Chad Barrett. At that point, the match was over for the Union, and they are left to regroup.
The first three matches for the Union have been almost a complete role reversal from last season: a solid defensive core centering around a confident keeper, but a deficit in idea and execution in the final third. I believe that their central midfield lacks that creative #10. Kyle Nakazawa has been started in that role, but I have yet to see him shine in this role. Even his set piece deliveries, thought to be a strength, are off target and appear to lack synchronization with the group of players running underneath.
For the Galaxy, this was a display of their defensive fortitude. Omar Gonzalez and Leonardo were excellent in stifling Ruiz’ runs. The midfield clogged the life out of the Union rush, with Juninho and Birchall causing turnover after turnover. Their offense was good enough this night; while they haven’t been the most prolific offense thus far, they haven’t had to be. Landon Donovan was quiet until the final 20 minutes.