BY KAYLA KNAPP
SAN JOSE, CALIF.—Red-hot striker Robbie Keane scored twice as the Los Angeles Galaxy knocked the San Jose Earthquakes out of the MLS playoffs on Wednesday night.
The Supporters’ Shield winners fell flat in their most important match of the year — crashing out of the playoffs far earlier than anyone expected. But Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena wasn’t the least bit surprised by his side’s performance.
“We’ve been real good since July. We actually were pretty comfortable that we could come in here and win. We were confident about that. We certainly screwed up the other night at home,” Arena said after the win. “Actually, the game the other night gave us the confidence that we could come in here and win because we felt that it was a good matchup for us.”
It was the Earthquakes’ first loss at Buck Shaw stadium this season — a small, intimate venue that has been their fortress all season.
“It’s amazing,” Galaxy defender Omar Gonzalez said after the win. “They did well during the year, but they couldn’t pull it off tonight. It felt great to hear that whistle blow, and just to finally be over with those guys. We came out on top, and I thought that they fought well. But they just couldn’t pull it off tonight.”
“We hadn’t beat this team all season, but we obviously beat them when it matters,” David Beckham said. “We knew that we were coming here with confidence. Of course, losing the first game is not ideal preparation, but we won the one that matters.”
The Galaxy will now face either the Seattle Sounders or Real Salt Lake in the Western Conference finals on Sunday night.
One of the biggest moments of the night came when San Jose defender Victor Bernardez had to be subbed off in the 12th minute with a right knee sprain. He had been the glue holding the Earthquakes defense together, and upon his exit the San Jose backline became unhinged.
Keane opened the scoring in the 21st minute, when Bernardez’s replacement Ike Opara didn’t step up to his dribble. Keane hit a rocket of a shot, beating Quakes goalkeeper Jon Busch to his left. It pinged off the post and into the back of the net, giving Los Angeles a 1-0 lead.
“We were smart,” Arena said of his squad, particularly in the first half. “We were strong in the early going, yet patient and the first goal was obviously important. The second goal, I think San Jose put their heads down, and the third goal obviously was a killer.”
That second goal came when Landon Donovan – who looked much more lively than he did on Sunday – received a great pass from defender Tommy Meyer. He then slotted a perfect ball through to Keane, who turned the corner on Busch and finished into the back of the net. In the 34th minute, it was 2-0 in favor of Los Angeles.
It only took five minutes for the defending champs to strike again, as they continuously put pressure on the Earthquakes struggling backline. It was Donovan again with the assist, this time crossing the ball to Mike Magee. The post-season clutch-man finished the pass calmly and coolly past Busch.
Down 3-0 before halftime, the outlook was bleak for San Jose. But this is the club that has mastered the late-game comeback – surely they had at least a goal in them.
And when the Earthquakes brought on Alan Gordon, their go-to striker for just these types of matches, the fans at Buck Shaw started to get loud again.
Gordon came through with a goal in the 82nd minute, but it was too little too late. Opara could have saved the Earthquakes season in stoppage time, after he was wide open with the ball in the middle of the penalty box, but skied his shot.
“We just had to stay strong, stay together because they was always going to have a chance to score,” Beckham said of the minutes following Gordon’s goal. “Funnily enough, [Gordon] always seems to score against us, and against his teams he’s played for. So he’s always going to be a threat. But we showed a lot of character in the last eight minutes.”
One of the biggest factors in the Galaxy win was the performance of center backs Tommy Meyer and Gonzalez. The two put in an excellent 90 minutes, and their teammates couldn’t have been happier with their showing on the night.
“The two center backs were great,” Donovan said. “Tommy [Meyer] became a man tonight. We’re going to need that, at least two more times, hopefully three more times, out of him. If he plays like that, we’ve got a good chance.”
The Galaxy move on the Western Conference finals, while the 2012 Supporters’ Shield winners see their season ended abruptly.
“We have guys that are champions on this team, and they know how to respond when things go against you,” Galaxy captain Landon Donovan said after the win. “I thought we were terrific throughout the game. If we were a little better, we could have scored a lot of goals tonight. I think it helps us a lot going into Sunday.”
The Galaxy will face either the Seattle Sounders or Real Salt Lake at the Home Depot Center on Sunday night in the first leg of the Western Conference finals.