By Alex Baker
Carson,CA -With a sellout midweek crowd of 20,000 in attendance, the LA Galaxy booked their passage to the MLS Western Conference Championship Thursday night with a 2-1 home win over New York Red Bulls. After going down a goal early in the match, the Galaxy leveled the score through a Mike Magee goal late in the first half. A second half penalty, crisply converted by Landon Donovan, bought the home side some breathing room and seemed to put New York‘s hopes of a comeback to bed.
However it could have all gone very differently for the Galaxy. With ex Arsenal and Barcelona striker, Thierry Henry in their lineup, the Red Bulls arrived in LA in dire need of a win. When they took a smash and grab lead in the 4th minute through a Luke Rodgers goal, it became apparent that the Galaxy indeed had a game on their hands. Moments later, when a fracas broke out on the center-line before the restart, it also became apparent that the bad blood that had boiled over in the first leg of the tie had yet to cool.
But the Galaxy have weathered many a storm this season and were in a fighting mood themselves. David Beckham started the match like a man on fire, nearly leveling the score himself with a blasted shot in the 9th minute from outside the 18 that went just over the crossbar.
A few minutes later, New York’s dream start to the match was sullied when Red Bulls coach Hans Backe was forced to make a 16th minute substitution, bringing Stephan Auvray on for playmaker Teemu Tainio who had injured his hamstring.
“Massive blow to lose Tainio that early in the game,” said Backe.”He’s the guy with the precise final passes in our attacking game.”
Still, New York pressed their case with considerable conviction and with midfielders like Dane Richards outrunning the likes of Todd Dunivant seemingly with ease and Thierry Henry twisting and beguiling his way through the midfield, there was a palpable sense that the Galaxy were in danger of having their title chase ended.
But the home side finally struck back in the 42nd minute when they were awarded a corner kick that was expertly lofted in by David Beckham and headed home decisively by Magee to make it 1-1 three minutes before halftime. For Magee, who has been the Galaxy’s talisman of late, the goal represented his second in two games against his former club, and was obviously the significant turning point in the match.
“It was pretty big,” said Magee. “They had a lot of momentum and Henry was kinda killing us so I think to go into half 1-1 and let them think about that at half, to know that they’d given it their all and be tied with us was big.”
The playoff dream effectively ended for New York in the 73rd minute when Roy Miller chopped down David Beckham inside the Red Bulls penalty area and LA were awarded a PK. Galaxy captain, Landon Donovan stepped up to the mark and coolly converted to make the score 2-1 on the night and 3-1 on aggregate.
Thursday night’s win sees the Galaxy through to the Western Conference Championship on Sunday in which they will host Real Salt Lake who bested them in the MLS Cup Final two years ago.