BY ADAM SERRANO
Landon Donovan is getting used to playing the hero.
Two goals in five minutes by the midfielder completed the Los Angeles Galaxy's first come back of the season as the league leaders defeated a heroic D.C. United side, 2-1 on Saturday at the Home Depot Center. Donovan's pair of goals gave the Galaxy captain sole possession of the club record in goals scored with 71. With the win, the Galaxy can clinch the first playoff berth of the season if arch rival Chivas USA defeats Kansas City tonight. Even with the win, Donovan admits that the match was not the Galaxy's best.
"Our quality was just not good. Everything could have been sharper and better. That being said, good teams find ways to win," said Donovan. "You are not always going to play well. You have to find a way to win. Before the game this week, I was thinking a lot about wanting to finish at the top of the league, and I want to be MVP again.
I wanted to make a statement tonight."
Down late in the second half, the Galaxy appeared to have returned to its late summer duldrums before Donovan was able to provide a spark in the 81st minute. After stealing the ball from a pair of D.C. defenders, Donovan was able to go around D.C. goalkeeper Troy Perkins and fire home a shot from 14 yards out.
Donovan would strike again just five minutes later. Despite suspect passing through out the night, defender Sean Franklin connected a percise pass to Tristan Bowen who delivered a cross that Donovan confidently headed past Perkins. The lift provided by Donovan overshadowed another plus on the night as midfielder David Beckham went 37 minutes in his second game back from injury. With the club's goal to get the Englishman ready for a full 90 minutes during the playoffs, Beckham feels as if he is moving right on schedule.
“It was a good workout for myself,” Beckham said. “I was puffing a little bit more than I was last week, but it was more minutes on the field, and that’s what I need. It’s going to take awhile to get my match fitness, and this game helps.”
The Galaxy came into the match with a thin back line with former Austin Aztex center back Yohance Marshall starting alongside Omar Gonzalez. The Trinidadian, who was recently recalled from Division 2 Austin was thrown right into the starting line up after reserve centerback Leonardo was ruled out with an injury. Arena admitted that after the game, he expects to bolster his defensive corps before next week's match against the Red Bulls as Leonardo and AJ DelaGarza will return from injury.
This defensive depth will be tested next week after Gonzalez was ruled out of next week's match due to a yellow card accumulation after picking up a a yellow late in the first half. The Galaxy enter next week's match without its first choice center backs as Gregg Berhalter is not expected to pass a fitness test. With defensive play a question in recent weeks, Arena admitted the Galaxy will need to improve in order to reach their final goal.
“Overall, to date, regardless of what you think, I’m pleased with our team," said Arena. I know if we don’t get better, we’re not going to have a chance to win MLS Cup. I understand that completely. But it hasn’t been the worst. It’s been okay to date."
United was able to take the lead early in the second half when Andy Najar, who was dominant throughout, forced a scramble in front of the Galaxy's net. Los Angeles failed to clear and the ball fell to the 17-year-old Najar who confidently fired the ball into the empty net. The goal was Najar's fourth of the season and his second against the Galaxy.
The 17-year-old caused headaches for the Galaxy throughout the night as his speed proved lethal when lined up against an older Los Angeles defense. While Najar flourished, poor defending late once again prevented last place United from taking full points on the road.Following the match, interim head coach Ben Olsen was despondent after yet another late game collapse.
"I like the way that we responded, but its not good enough just to play hard," said Olsen."We've got to be smart. We've got to be clinical and we've got to get cutthroat when we have the chances to do so."
With the defeat, United is now mathematically eliminated from the playoffs and will miss the post season for the third year in a row. Olsen's club returns to RFK next week to take on the Houston Dynamo, another illustrious club in the midst of a slide.
Los Angeles will now prepare to take on the New York Red Bulls on Friday. The match pits Beckham, Donovan and Edson Buddle against the Red Bulls assortment of Designated Players in Juan Pablo Angel, Rafa Marquez and Thierry Henry. Following the victory over D.C., Arena, who has been in the league since its inception in 1996 admitted that Friday's match is one that has been 14 years in the making.
“It will be a good game. I think when the envisioned this league, they probably wanted to have something like this. Two big cities, getting after each other a little bit," said Arena. "This league is moving forward at the right pace and I think next Friday will mean a lot to both teams. It is going an evening to celebrate where this league has come. I think it will be a fabulous night for MLS."