BY KAYLA KNAPP
CARSON, CALIF— Victor Bernardez was the hero for the San Jose Earthquakes on Sunday night, scoring on a long-range free kick to give the visitors a 1-0 victory over the Los Angeles Galaxy at Home Depot Center on Sunday night.
“It just shows the spirit of the team,” Earthquakes head coach Frank Yallop said after the win. “For an away performance with a pretty banged up squad, we’re obviously very happy with the result.”
Bernardez delivered the victory when he blasted a 30-yard free kick through the Galaxy wall and past LA goalkeeper Josh Saunders, who handled the deflected shot badly, letting it get past him for the vital goal.
“The important thing is it went in,” Bernardez said of the bumble by Saunders on his goal. “That’s all that really matters. I lined up the free kick to try to get a goal, and that was the result we got.”
“You’re trying to see through the wall,” Saunders said of Bernardez’s free kick. “The ball goes through the wall, deflects, takes a weird spin, and you’re trying to react based on what’s happening in front of you. My play was not acceptable. I’ll take the blame.”
The game-winning goal provided a fitting ending for the Bernardez, who had been stellar on the back-line all night against a dangerous Galaxy attack that had a number of chances throughout the match.
“Obviously, we didn’t finish off plays technically in and around the penalty area,” Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena said. “It cost us the game. We were in position to get a goal or two tonight, for sure. Failed to execute the last pass or shot.”
As the two teams head back to Buck Shaw for the second leg, Yallop and his team know the second 90 minutes will be anything but easy.
“It’s halftime,” Yallop said, referring to break between the two legs of the series. “It was an even game, they shaded on chances for sure, but we’re going home now. Hopefully we can lift ourselves and have a good performance, but again, it’s halftime and we’re just going to get rested and get ready for that game.”
The late goal is a major blow for the reigning MLS Cup champions, who must now travel to San Jose for the second leg of the Western Conference semifinal and win at Buck Shaw Stadium, where the Earthquakes have not lost this season.
“It was never a game you would think that we would lose but, it was kind of one fluke play and we were a little unlucky,” Galaxy captain Landon Donovan said after the match. “We probably weren’t sharp enough in the offensive part of the field, but at worse we thought we’d go up there 0-0 and just have to get a goal. Now it looks like we’ve got to get two. But, it’s not over, we’ve played well there twice this year and there’s no reason why we can’t win there.”
The Galaxy created their fair share of chances on Sunday, but for much of the night they played like a tired team, the effect of having played on Thursday in a Knockout Round victory against Vancouver was clear.
San Jose dictated the pace of the match for most of the first half, where both teams wore out the grass in the middle of the pitch. A total of seven attempts on goal (with only one shot on target) between the two made for a tight first 45 minutes. Neither side seemed to find a rhythm, and despite the Galaxy’s slight edge in possession, the home team didn’t have a single shot on goal.
The second half, the Galaxy finally seemed to break the spell the Earthquakes had them under, and began to string passes together and control the pace of the match. Though, San Jose wasn’t without a few chances of their own.
The best opportunity of the night for Los Angeles came in the 85th minute, when Galaxy captain Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane combined at the top of the 18-yard box, and the Irishman pinged a rocket of a shot off the crossbar. But it was not meant to be for the Galaxy.
“We didn’t have too many great chances, but obviously unlucky with Robbie’s and probably didn’t run hard enough in front of the goal with a lot of the crosses we had,” Donovan said. “We got a number of decent chances and some good attacking play, and on Wednesday we’ve got to score.”
Fort the second leg of this Western Conference semifinal, San Jose will have the clear upper hand, with both the win and playing at home, just needing a draw to advance.
“They’re one-nil down, so they’re going to throw everything at us to try to get the equalizer and obviously try to go on and win. We know that. We’ve faced a lot of adversity all year, being the unfashionable, fouling, ugly team. But 72 goals ain’t bad for an ugly team,” Yallop said. “For me, it’s about winning. And we’ve played plenty of good football around the box. Ask our fans, they love it.”
What did you think of the match? Impressed with the Earthquakes’ defense? See the Galaxy coming back in the second leg?
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