By OMAR SHAMOUT
CARSON, Calif.– If the Los Angeles Galaxy were going to quell any creeping doubt among themselves and supporters regarding their recent three-game mini slump, Saturday night’s showdown vs. Sporting Kansas City was the perfect game to make a statement.
Sporting Kansas City hadn’t given up a goal in more than nine hours of play, a five-game shutout streak, on their march to the top of the Eastern Conference standings.
The Galaxy answered the call, turning in their best performance in weeks, and reminding many in the Home Depot Center crowd of their imperious home form of two seasons ago that combined a well-organized defense with blistering speed and flashy goals. Those hallmarks were back again in the team’s 2-0 win over Sporting KC.
Landon Donovan set up a goal and scored another to lead the Galaxy to a win that pushed them into second place in the Western Conference with 11 points, eight behind FC Dallas.
“We finished a game well, finally,” Donovan said after the game. “We had been giving up some sloppy goals.”
Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena said it was a “more complete match” than they had played recently. “We haven’t closed games out the right way this year. I think tonight we did that.”
Both teams started the first half brightly. The Galaxy created most of their chances on the counter attack, while Sporting tried to control possession and came close to scoring when Graham Zusi rattled the crossbar with a free kick in the 19th minute.
Sporting KC looked like a tired team though, and began to fade and show the effects of having played a mid-week game and flying cross-country for Saturday’s match.
The Galaxy finally converted one of their numerous counter attacks in the 27th minute when Marcelo Sarvas knocked the ball in Nielsen’s net from a yard out after receiving a pass from Donovan.
The counter attack started after Oriol Rosell slipped in midfield for Kansas City. Donovan broke down the left flank and made his way to the end line before finding an onrushing Sarvas. The goal was the first conceded by Sporting in 545 minutes of play, but it came with some controversy. Sarvas appeared to handle the ball with his arm in midfield before finding Donovan to start the break.
The non-call left Sporting KC head coach Peter Vermes fuming after the match.
“It’s a shame in a game like this … for a goal to be scored in that way,” Vermes said. “You have center ref, you’ve got linesmen, and you have the fourth official. It’s a failure in the system. They made a mistake for sure.”
Sarvas was perplexed when asked about the handball controversy, claiming he didn’t play the ball with his hand (replays clearly showed that he did).
“No, I don’t think so,” the Brazilian midfielder said. “It was just the situation of the game.”
After a somewhat listless start to the second-half in which Sporting KC’s cross-country travels seemed to catch up with them, the Galaxy’s fast break kicked into high gear once more. Keane broke down the left and dribbled into the Sporting penalty area. Rather than taking the wide open shot himself, the striker passed to Donovan, who tapped in his first goal of the season.
“Yeah, of course,” Keane said when asked if that stat played into his mind when passing to Donovan.
“I could sense that he wanted to get me going,” Donovan said. “That’s what a leader does. If he took the shot, he’s probably going to score, but he wanted to get me a tap in, and I appreciate it. He’s a class player.”
The forward added that he’s starting to get his groove back. “I did feel more like myself out there today,” Donovan said. “It’s nice to hit the net again. It’s been a while.”
The result changes momentum for both teams, who came into Saturday’s matchup heading in opposite directions. The Galaxy had lost three straight, including their two CONCACAF Champions League semifinal legs against Monterrey. Their typically sturdy defense had leaked six goals over their previous four games. Leonardo’s red card suspension opened the door for Bruce Arena to turn to the four-man back-line that has helped lead the Galaxy to their past two MLS Cup titles, with A.J. De La Garza at centerback and Sean Franklin at right back alongside Omar Gonzalez and Todd Dunivant.
“I think I feel a little bit more comfortable in the middle just because I’ve played there since I was 14-years-old,” DeLaGarza said. “But I think I’m learning the right side.”
Donovan said it was nice to see “the old crew back together,” referring to what had been Arena’s first-choice back line until DeLaGarza’s late-season injury last year.
Sporting KC will return home having split their two-match road trip. They are still in first place in the East and will return to Sporting Park to take on the Portland Timbers next week.
Despite the victory, Donovan didn’t have any doubts as to whether Kansas City has the credentials to make a deep post-season run.
“No question,” he said. “That team would look different had they not played in New York and traveled here. I wouldn’t be surprised if they end up coming out of the East.”
Here are the match highlights: