By AVI CREDITOR
WASHINGTON – Whether it's Royal Bafokeng Stadium in Rustenburg, South Africa, or RFK Stadium, the penalty spot and goal are all the same for Landon Donovan.
The Los Angeles Galaxy star stepped to the spot after a Julius James handball in the box and buried a tie-breaking, 58th-minute penalty kick to lift the Galaxy to a 2-1 victory over D.C. United Sunday night.
Donovan elected to go to the same side as he did against Ghana in the United States' final World Cup match, tucking his penalty shot inside the right post.
"I waited for Troy (Perkins) to see what he was going to do, and he waited a long time," Donovan said. "If goalies wait like that, they're not going to save it. If they take a chance and guess the right way, then they'll get it. He waited for a while, so I knew I just had to put pace on it and he wasn't going to get it."
Donovan's penalty came four minutes after D.C. had found an equalizer, with Andy Najar getting on the end of Pablo Hernandez' free kick from the right. The 17-year-old out-leaped Edson Buddle, who scored the game's opening goal, and got off a snap header that Galaxy keeper Donovan Ricketts had no chance of stopping.
Najar, who was matched up against Donovan most of the evening, won the admiration of the Galaxy captain with his performance.
"I was very impressed with him," Donovan said. "I'd heard a lot about him, only seen some tape and highlights, and I thought he did very well. The goal was well-taken, I was surprised with how well he did in the air, and technically I thought he was very good. He plays a lot older than he is."
Najar and Hernandez were bright spots for United, with both showing the ability to create individually to lead to a threatening build-up. Hernandez missed a chance to pull United even again in the 89th minute, though.
James got his foot on a ball over the top of the Galaxy defense that bounced into Hernandez' path, and he lofted a close-range header over the crossbar and onto the netting, though Ricketts was charging off his line to try and alter the shot.
"I found myself with the ball and I couldn't go low on him, and the only thing I could do was react," Hernandez said through a translator. "The keeper anticipated it well."
United's streak of being snake-bit grew with the word that midfielder Chris Pontius likely has a broken foot. He was subbed off at halftime, and United coach Curt Onalfo relayed the prognosis from the team's medical staff.
The injury isn't the first to Pontius this season, nor is it the first to a key member of the team.
Injuries have forced rookie fullback Jordan Graye to shift from his preferred right back position to left back, and he was guilty of giveaways that have resulted in decisive goals in United's two losses this week.
"Graye's a young player, and that's what you get," Onalfo said. "He is our third left back. We have Marc Burch, broken foot, and Rodney Wallace, broken leg. He's a fourth-round pick who has had some very good games for us. He's made some errors that have cost us, and unfortunately that's what young players go through."
The latest mistake put Sean Franklin in on goal, and his shot from the edge of the box deflected off a sliding James' arm, drawing the penalty.
"The defender made a bad pass, and I was just trying to get a good shot on goal," Franklin said.
Graye almost made up for his mistake by joining the attack and firing from outside the area in the 64th minute, but Ricketts was able to just get a touch on the ball to put it out for a corner.
While Ricketts was up to his normal standard in goal, fellow All-Star First XI selections Donovan and Buddle were up to theirs in the attacking zone.
Donovan caused havoc on the left flank all game, and Buddle added to his league-leading goal total by tallying his 11th of the season in the 38th minute.
He took a cross from Franklin off defender Stephen King and dribbled down the right side of the box before having his initial shot blocked by Dejan Jakovic. He gained control of the rebound and curled toward the center of the area around a sprawled-out Jakovic and King before slotting home the opening score.
"We lost two games on the road and we wanted to come out here and get some points," Buddle said. "We talked about it all week, trying to stay focused and compact."
After a U.S. Open Cup loss to Seattle and a rare league loss to New England, the Galaxy have bounced back to open up a nine-point lead on second-place Real Salt Lake in the Western Conference, though RSL has a game in hand.
"You're going to lose games along the way, and the way you respond the next game is important," Galaxy coach Bruce Arena said. "Our response was real good tonight. We went out in the first half and set the tone."
Here are highlights from Sunday night's match:
What did you think of the match? Do you think United's luck will turn? Impressed with Najar's skill? Think Franklin is under-appreciated? Expect the Galaxy to run away with the Western Conference crown?
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