BY ADAM SERRANO
TORONTO — Led by a raucous crowd of 47,658 Toronto FC showed the Los Angeles Galaxy that there would be no easy passage to the CONCACAF Champions League semi-finals, but a fast start and two early goals for the home team wasn't enough to beat the defending MLS Cup champions.
Landon Donovan netted an 88th-minute equalizer after tapping home a loose ball off a David Beckham corner to complete a two-goal rally and help the Galaxy earn a 2-2 draw against TFC at Rogers Center in the first leg of their CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal series.
TFC jumped out to an early lead, exploiting errors in the Galaxy defense to score two goals in the first 20 minutes of play from forward Ryan Johnson and rookie midfielder Luis Silva.
Mike Magee pulled one back for the Galaxy, giving the defending MLS Cup champions a key away goal in the 29th minute. With just a minute left in regulation, Donovan equalized off a Beckham corner kick.
"We certainly didn't do ourselves any favors early on, but our response was very good," said Donovan. "Given everything that we've had, we've probably had two full training sessions together against a team that has had eight weeks together. We had to do some figuring out on the field and I think that when we settle down and do some training then it'll help, but all in all it's a good result."
Eager to push ahead of gain an early advantage and lifted by the enormous crowd, TFC sought to press the Galaxy's nervy backline. Toronto broke out of the gate with an in the 12th minute when a failed clearance by Magee off a corner kick fell to the foot of Johnson, who blasted a shot past goalkeeper Josh Saunders.
Six minutes later, TFC doubled their lead when Torsten Frings fired a looping cross over the Galaxy defense, which fell to Silva. Alone on the goalkeeper, the rookie midfielder — and Los Angeles native — easily headed the ball past a outstretched Saunders.
"We played well, not only in the first 25 minutes," said Toronto FC head coach Aron Winter. "Because at the moment we played went up two goals, but if you watch the entire game, then you can see that we played very well."
After Toronto's early flurry, the defending MLS Cup champions quickly regained their composure and began to control possession while Toronto bunkered trying to hold the result.
As the Galaxy pushed for their equalizer, both teams struggled with haggard surface– that was spongy in the center and hard around the edges with seams throughout that routinely affected passes and shots from both sides. The boisterous crowd played their own role causing numerous delays in the action during Galaxy corner kicks as the Toronto supporters pelted David Beckham with streamers — and in one instance beer cans — on corner kicks.
"That was terrific support of their team," said head coach Bruce Arena of the support. "The fans deserve a lot of credit for coming out and supporting their team. it's a huge statement for this franchise. I give them a lot of credit and wish them a heck of a lot of good luck after next Wednesday."
Arena did point to the difficult time the Galaxy had playing on the artificial turf as an issue the team had to deal with.
"These artificial fields, indoors, its difficult and then on top of it you cant put water on them, it's really tough," Arena said. "They did a very good job getting this facility ready for this but it is what it is."
But it was Donovan, who had the last laugh. After a mostly anonymous performance in the early stages of the match battling the symptoms of bronchitis, Donovan silenced the crowd in the 89th minute. Off a Beckham corner kick, the ball appeared to bounce off Toronto rookie Aaron Maund to Donovan, who easily finished from close range.
Donovan's late goal changed the entire complexion of the match as Los Angeles will now advance to the semifinals with a 0-0 or 1-1 draw at home in the second leg which takes place next Wednesday in the second leg at the Home Depot Center. In stark contrast to the match in Toronto, the second leg will be played in front of just 7,500 fans due to a previous agreement with Cal-State Dominguez Hills.
After a dreadful start, the Galaxy are positive heading into a decisive second leg at home.
"Obviously for us, it was a good come back,"said defender Todd Dunivant. "And we got two away goals which is big, but we feel good about this result."