By MARK EDWARD HORNISH
CARSON, Calif. — Most nights, a game takes ninety minutes to decide. On Friday, it only took one.
Colorado Rapids goalkeeper Joe Nasco received a straight red card in the first 30 seconds against the Los Angeles Galaxy for a from-behind takedown of Alan Gordon inside the six-yard box. It set up an early goal for Landon Donovan and the Galaxy never looked back, galloping to a 6-0 victory before an announced crowd of 18,145 at the Stub Hub Center on Friday night.
Donovan was once again the star of the show, as the Galaxy midfielder scored twice and added two assists in the rout. Both of Donovan’s goals came on penalty kicks, bringing his season goal total to nine and extending his MLS scoring record to 143 goals.
With the pair of assists, he now sits on 131 in his career, only four shy of Steve Ralston’s record. Donovan has two assists per game over the last three matches and appears on track to grab the new record by the season’s end, when he will retire.
The Galaxy applied immediate pressure off the opening kickoff, and when Galaxy left back Todd Dunivent whipped a curling cross into the goal mouth, multiple white shirts were waiting to pounce. The Rapid’s Nasco, starting in place of the struggling Clint Irwin, lost control of the ball in a scramble in front of his goal. As the ball squirted behind Nasco, Gordon stepped over the goalkeeper to tap the ball home. But Nasco turned and wrapped both arms around Gordon’s legs to take him down, allowing Colorado defender Thomas Piermayr to clear the ball off the line.
Referee Baldomero Toledo did not hesitate. He blew his whistle, pointed to the spot, and walked directly over to Nasco and showed him the red card.
Donovan easily converted and that was that. Facing 89 minutes to play down a goal with only ten men, Colorado capitulated to the streaking Galaxy. In the end, the Rapids allowed six goals on twenty shots, while managing only six shots of their own on the evening, four of which came within the space of a few minutes midway through the second half.
“I’m not sure we planned it that way,” Donovan said of the early red card. “But when you put teams under pressure, they make mistakes. We’ve been talking all year about getting good crosses in front of the goal, and making good runs in front of the goal. Gyasi and Gordo made excellent runs in front of the goal, Todd hit a great cross in front of the goal, and when you do that, good things happen.”
Gyasi Zardes donated a brace of goals as well, one in each half. The two goals give him 14 on the season and perhaps add to the case that Jurgen Klinsmann was wrong to overlook the striker in the current round of USMNT call ups. Zardes’ first goal was particularly thrilling, coming on the end of a 16-pass buildup, and culminating with a Zardes dummy and spin move that allowed Donovan to send Zardes in alone on Irwin to net home.
“My teammates are helping me,” Zardes said after the match. “Landon, he’s a phenomenal player, and I’m just trying to learn as much as I can from him. As you can see, in recent games, he’s been the one giving me the assists for all my goals. I’m just trying to build off that.”
Baggio Husidic also scored twice, his first brace of goals ever in a professional uniform. As with all the other Galaxy goals in the run of play on the evening, Husidic both times found himself on the end of long strings of Galaxy possession. He doubled the Galaxy lead in the 30th minute, receiving a 14th consecutive Galaxy pass before beating Irwin low far post.
It was not a perfect evening for the Galaxy. Left back Todd Dunivant was stretchered off in the 25th minute after a Nick La Brocca tackle sent him flying. Dunivant, a stalwart for the past five seasons on Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena’s back line, missed three months of the season due to an abdominal tear that required surgery, and appeared to be clutching the same area of his body as he left left the field.
At the time, the Galaxy still held only a one goal lead. But with the Galaxy defense so depleted with injury, along with the absence of defender A.J. De La Garza, Arena brought on a fifth midfielder and went with a three-man back line for the remainder of the evening. The strategy, though born out of necessity, worked as the Galaxy held possession for over 74 percent of the match, and completed a staggering 91 percent of their passes on the night.
“Our injuries this year have really been in the back, and we’re just hanging on with bodies right now” said Arena after the game. “But being able to win six games in a row, and being positioned where we are, we feel good about that, but we want to continue to get better.”
De la Garza missed the match amid news earlier in the day that he and his wife Megan lost their newborn son, Luca, to complications from a congenital heart condition. De la Garza’s return to the Galaxy is unknown. The Galaxy dedicated their performance Friday to Luca, wearing black armbands stitched with his name.
“We’re just heartbroken for our teammate, our friend Megan, and their family,” Donovan said. “I think we wanted to play well. We had a feeling that they would all be watching. It doesn’t take away from the pain they’re feeling, but maybe it put a few smiles on their faces in a period of three or four days where they’ve had no smiles and a lot of tears.”
The Galaxy have now won five games in a row and sit in second place in the Western Conference, two points behind the Seattle Sounders. That could change on Wednesday night, when the Galaxy travel to Montreal to take on the Impact. With a win, the Galaxy would take over first place in the West, and could take the lead in the Supporter’s Shield race as well.
For the Colorado Rapids, the wheels may now be officially off. The loss is their seventh in a row, and a spot in the MLS playoffs is receding into the distance. The Rapids will return home to face the Portland Timbers on Sept. 13th.
Here are the match highlights: