Photo by Mike Janosz/ISIPhotos.com
By ADAM SERRANO
CARSON, Calif.– With their dreams of a place in the Champions League quarterfinals fading fast, the Los Angeles Galaxy produced the same sort of late-game magic they produced the last time they faced Morelia.
Only this time there was no referee's call to negate a dramatic game-winning goal.
Juninho's goal off a corner kick in second-half stoppage time gave the Galaxy a thrilling 2-1 victory over Morelia on Wednesday night to preserve the Galaxy's hopes of advancing to the quarterfinals.
After falling to Monarcas in controversial fashion in their last meeting, the fact that Juninho's goal was nearly a carbon copy of the second-half stoppage time goal taken away from Robbie Keane for an incorrect offside call felt like poetic justice for the Galaxy.
"Given what happened in Morelia, we felt that it was a little bit unjustified," said Galaxy captain Landon Donovan. "The world has a crazy way of working out when you do things the right way. I'm proud of our guys for continuing to put in the effort and have the attitude that we could still get that goal and it paid off."
Despite missing David Beckham to suspension, and Robbie Keane and Sean Franklin to injury, the Galaxy pushed Morelia early on in the match. Los Angeles broke through in the 21st minute when Mike Stephens sent in a looping ball to Todd Dunivant, who fired a cross to Mike Magee. Using Adam Cristman as a screen, Magee blasted a shot past Federico Villar to give the Galaxy an early lead.
After the goal, Morelia came alive and began to press the Galaxy for the equalizer. Despite missing midfield maestro Joao Rojas, Morelia was able to take control of the match later in the first half and into the second half. With their foot on the pedal throughout during the second half, Morelia found the tying goal in the 61st minute when a Bryan Jordan deflection fell into the box to a waiting Rafael Marquez Lugo, who slotted it past Josh Saunders.
Rather than hold for the draw, Morelia's head coach Tomas Boy went for the jugular, inserting Miguel Sabah and Aldo Ramirez just moments after the goal, but the Galaxy defense held firm.
As Los Angeles pressed for a winner, Morelia nearly found their own game winner as Damian Manso rattled the crossbar in the 80th minute after beating Saunders. Just seven minutes later, Ramirez broke through the Galaxy defense and hit a shot from close range just wide of Saunders net.
After two close misses, the Galaxy began to throw caution to the wind, throwing numbers at the Morelia net. Earrning two quick corner kicks in the last three minutes, the Galaxy began to create on set pieces. Then a minute into stoppage time, Donovan's third corner kick in five minutes found the head of Chad Barrett, who headed back to a lurking Juninho. The Brazilian midfielder did not disappoint, firing a shot that beat Villar before ending the night with a traditional brazilian capoeira celebration.
After Juninho's goal, the Galaxy stared at the officials, but this time there was no linesman's flag to take this victory away.
"I wasn't expecting the ball, it was a complicated ball and obviously, it was a lot of training on my part to get me there to score the goal," said Juninho. "We needed to win and especially get three points at home and now we're still alive in the tournament."
Although the match served as arguably the most important win for the Galaxy so far this season, it was played in front of a heavily pro-Morelia crowd of 7,500 at the Home Depot Center. Attendance for the match was capped at 7,500 due to parking concerns for classes at nearby Cal State-Dominguez Hills.
Both teams will look to Thursday when Club Motagua travel to Alajuelense. A victory for Alajuelense and three teams will be locked in with nine points going into the final match day. The Costa Ricans will then face off against Morelia at the Estadio Morelos on October 18th, two days before the Galaxy take on Motagua in Honduras. A victory against last-place and winless Motagua will clinch the Galaxy's place into the quarterfinals.
"We win and we're in, that's what you want," said Dunivant. "You want to have that opportunity at the end of six games and we have that. It won't be easy going into their stadium and winning there, but that has to be our job and our focus and if we do that, we're through."