By KAYLA KNAPP
CARSON, Calif.—Six months ago, Toronto FC knocked the Los Angeles Galaxy out of the CONCACAF Champions League—on their turf, no less. But on Saturday night at the Home Depot Center, the Galaxy made that loss seem like a distant memory as they continued their climb up the Western Conference standings.
Juninho opened the scoring with a pair of goals, while Robbie Keane added two more as the Galaxy rolled to a 4-2 victory on Saturday night. The win moved the Galaxy into second place in the West, and helped them clinch a playoff spot.
“The resurgence, it’s been outstanding, it’s a real character test on the group,” Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena said. “Not many teams would have positioned themselves where we are right now. Having said that, I think we all understand there’s a lot of soccer left to be played this season, and we’ve really got to be determined over the next four games.”
The Brazilian scored his first goal off a free kick in the 11th minute, and the second an absolute rocket from 32 yards out, bringing his tally to seven on the season. Keane had his first in the 36th, and then sealed it in stoppage time.
“We had 27 shots tonight, which, I can’t remember the last time I saw an MLS game that had 27 shots for a team,” Galaxy captain Landon Donovan said after the win. “We’re just playing really well, clicking really well offensively and that’s without one of our most dangerous players on the field in David. We’re happy with where we are offensively. We’re not happy to give up two goals, but they were a little fluky and that’s going to happen, but still good to win.”
Those 27 shots on Saturday night tied a club record set on July 18, 1998 in a home game against Miami Fusion, that ended in a shoot-out loss after a 2-2 draw.
From the first minute, Toronto looked very much like the last place team that they are, and the Galaxy dominated the game on all fronts. The assault on Toronto’s net came early and often. New addition Christian Wilhelmsson was particularly active in his second appearance for the Galaxy, with a few chances on goal in the opening minutes.
The Galaxy’s first goal came in the 11th minute, when Wilhelmsson was fouled just outside the 18 yard box by Luis Silva. Juninho stood over the free kick as Toronto keeper Freddy Hall organized a very large wall of players. But the intimidating wall couldn’t stop the Brazilian, who curled the ball around it and past a helpless Hall.
“I think that you all saw our reactions after our goal, we all got into a little huddle and sang Bruce happy birthday and we all just told [Juninho] to shoot,” Mike Magee said of the celebration after the Brazilian’s first goal. “If he wasn’t already, whenever he gets it, he needs to shoot because the form that he’s in right now is like nothing I’ve ever seen. Not in practice, not in games, not on tv or anything. Anytime he shoots, its either going in or hitting a post or something.”
It was clear that Juninho was in the zone on Saturday night, when he ripped a shot on frame that Hall barely tipped into the bar, rattling the goal frame and going just over. But it wouldn’t be long before he found the back of the net again.
In the 33rd minute, Juninho scored one of his signature long-distance strikes, smashing the ball from 32 yards out to beat Hall into the upper left corner. It was Juninho’s seventh goal for the Galaxy this season, and gave his side a 2-0.
Just three minutes later, Keane gave LA its third goal, scoring in 36thminute and assisted by Mike Magee.
Only two minutes after the Irishman seemed to put the game out of reach for Toronto, they got one back in the 38th minute when Terry Dunfield scored off long throw in that was flicked on by Silva. Marcelo Sarvas lost Dunfield and paid for it, as he put Toronto on the board, 3-1.
Until that goal, the Galaxy had gone 351 minutes in MLS play and 491 minutes in all competitions without conceding. A far cry from the abysmal start the reigning MLS Cup champions had this season.
Silva pulled Toronto within one goal of the Galaxy in the 86th minute, scoring on a shot that bounced awkwardly over the defense and keeper Josh Saunders, making it 3-2 with just a few minutes remaining.
Toronto got no closer. Keane scored his second of the night in stoppage time, giving the Galaxy a 4-2 lead and ultimately the victory.
Toronto head coach Paul Mariner was “bitterly disappointed” about the loss, he was also proud of his side’s resilience.
“[The comeback] is very important, you show that you have some fight left in you. There’s always a lot of fight left in us,” Mariner said after the loss. “My hats off to the lads, coming back 3-2 to the Galaxy is good, but end of the day we’ve lost.”
With the win and Seattle's loss to San Jose, the Galaxy moved into sole possession of second place in the Western Conference, ahead of Real Salt Lake (based on more goals scored). The Galaxy and RSL meet at Home Depot Center on Oct. 6th. In their final four games of the season, the Galaxy will face tough, in-conference opponents.
“Obviously these are going to be all difficult games. Colorado in Colorado is difficult, Salt Lake and Seattle at home, and then San Jose on the road those are four very difficult games. It’s going to be challenging,” Arena said of the upcoming stretch of matches. “Coming into form and then having those games, it’s all there, there’s no hiding. We can kind of control our destiny at this point.”
Toronto’s disappointing season continues as they sit at the bottom of the Eastern Conference with just 22 points.