BY KAYLA KNAPP
CARSON, Calif.—It was a tense affair from the minute the whistle blew to start the game in Carson on Sunday afternoon. Both LA Galaxy and FC Dallas are in the playoff hunt, and as we come into the final stretch of the regular season, the intensity of every match is amplified.
It was the Galaxy who came away with the three points, winning 2-0 at the Home Depot Center on second-half goals from Juninho and Todd Dunivant.
Dunivant's involvement in the match was a point of contention after a controversial play where he looked like he committed a last-man foul in the 11th minute on Fabian Castillo. Instead of receiving a red card, Dunivant was issued a yellow card.
After a fairly even first half, the Galaxy opened the scoring in the 66th minute when second-half substitute Jose Villarreal dispossessed Matt Hedges and found Juninho wide open in the box. The Brazilian calmly finished the ball into the net.
Villarreal was the spark that LA needed, making his mark on the game not long after coming onto the field. It was his hard work and pressure on Hedges that created LA’s first goal.
“Jose was outstanding,” Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena said after the match. “A really alert play that helped set up the first goal, and really just a solid 30 minutes. He did quite well.”
“He came with a lot of energy, he’s proven right now that he’s a kid that has a lot of talent, and he came in, changed the game,” Juninho said of Villarreal after the match.
The Galaxy sealed the deal in the 84th minute, when Robbie Keane combined with sub Michael Stephens, who found Dunivant streaking into the box and slotted a perfect ball through Dallas’s defense. Dunivant finished past Kevin Hartman to secure the win for LA.
The first half was full of chances for the Galaxy, but LA was unable to convert in the final third. With Landon Donovan still out injured, Mike Magee replaced him on the front line with Robbie Keane—not nearly as strong of a pairing as the usual.
David Beckham swung in several corner kicks and free kicks but Dallas’s defenders did well to win the balls in the air—LA couldn’t connect well on any of their set pieces.
The game was chippy early, and it was clear that LA and Dallas aren’t very fond of each other. Fouls flew from both sides, and with Galaxy defenders Dunivant and Sean Franklin each picking up a yellow card before halftime.
Dallas had their fair share of opportunities in the first 45, but LA goalkeeper Josh Saunders was solid in net, keeping the sheet clean through the first half.
In the 41st minute, Castillo went down injured, forcing an early substitution for Dallas. Blas Perez came on, making his first appearance for the team since late May when he was injured.
“David gave him a great get through ball, when he went through and banged with Saunders, he jumped and tried to get out of the way and he strained a hamstring doing that. It forced us to bring Blas on,” Dallas head coach Schellas Hyndman said post-game. “Castillo was causing LA quite a bit of problems because of his speed and explosion. Our game plan was to stretch the defense and have good flank play…when he got hurt, we lost that flank play.”
At halftime, it was still scoreless but both sides fought hard to try and break through.
The second half saw much of the same action as the first—LA with lots of chances, but no conversions. That changed in the 59th minute when Villarreal came on for Hector Jimenez.
The young striker provided exactly the spark the Galaxy needed in the 66thminute, when he stripped Hedges of the ball, and found Juninho who slotted it into the upper 90 for the first goal of the match.
Michael Stephens came on for Beckham in the 78th minute, and it didn’t take long for him to make an impact. In the 84th, Keane combined with Stephens, who found Dunivant making a run into the box.
The late-game sub split Dallas’s defense, found Dunivant’s feet and the Galaxy defender put the final touch on a 2-0 win for LA.
Not only was LA able to find the back of the net without Donovan on the field, but they secured their sixth shutout this season behind a solid defensive effort against a very tough Dallas side.
“It’s an accumulation, we had good performances and we’re starting to get more consistent performances, getting shutouts is a big thing for us defensively and we’re starting to put together more and more of those,” Dunivant said after the game. “When you do that, you give yourself a chance to win.”
Despite the loss, Dallas had some positives to build on moving forward in their run for a playoff spot.
“We came out with a good game plan. We were trying to stretch the defense a little bit with Jackson up front. I thought our defense has really been holding up well,” Hyndman said after the match. “You make a bad mistake and they capitalize on it. I was glad to see the guys continue to fight.”
FC Dallas will face Seattle Sounders on Sunday as they aim to get back on track at home.
“There’s been some pretty good progress. This is a team that was 3-8-2,” Arena said of the Galaxy’s recent climb up the standings. “Good game against a good team in a big game. We’re moving in the right direction. We’ve just got to keep moving forward.”
LA will have to quickly switch gears to CONCACAF Champions League, as they face the Puerto Rico Islanders on Wednesday night.