By KAYLA KNAPP
CARSON, Calif.–The LA Galaxy took down Isidro Metapan 5-2 on Thursday night in their opening CONCACAF Champions League match, but the win wasn't nearly as comfortable as the scoreline would suggest.
Despite flurry of second half cards, including the bizarre sending off of captain Robbie Keane, the Galaxy managed to hold off a quick and dangerous Metapan side. More importantly, the two goals LA scored while down a player may prove crucial in goal differential as the group stage progresses.
“It’s crazy that a professional referee would come out and want to take over a game like that,” LA Galaxy Todd Dunivant said after the match. “It’s about the guys on the field, it’s not about the guys in the stripes. It blows your mind when things like that happen. There was a lot of frustration on our part with that, and we’ve got to learn from it and on move on.”
Poor calls aside, David Beckham was the star of the show, setting up two goals and scoring a third directly from a corner kick.
From the opening minutes, the Galaxy attacked Metapan’s defense relentlessly. In the first three minutes, Robbie Keane had two quality chances but was unable to find the back of the net early.
LA kept up their attack, pushing hard to try and break down Metapan’s defense. In the 9th minute, Keane had another opportunity to put the Galaxy on the scoreboard. Beckham played a perfect ball in behind the Metapan backline, but Keane couldn’t control the ball and the chance was wasted.
Despite having the majority of looks on net, it was Metapan who struck first. In the 17th minute, Nicolas Munoz gave them a 1-0 lead over LA.
This seemed to wake the Galaxy up, because just three minutes later Metapan’s defense caved to the pressure LA was putting on them. In the 20th minute, the Galaxy tied it up thanks to an own goal by Metapan’s Jose Alvarado.
LA struck again just two minutes later, when Beckham assisted Keane in the 22nd minute.
Then, in stoppage time right before the half, Beckham curled a corner kick into the back of the net, giving LA a 3-1 lead with 45 minutes to play. A relatively straight-forward first half—but the second half was a far different story.
The craziness began in the 70th minute when Keane made a run at Metapan’s defense. He appeared to be tripped up trying to break through a couple of their defenders, but the referee saw otherwise. Keane was given a yellow for a dive, and the Irishman was not pleased.
He immediately motioned to the bench to coach Bruce Arena, asking to be subbed off. He also appeared to wave his hands, motioning that the he disagreed with the call. The ref immediately pulled out a red card and Keane was sent off for dissent.
“Your guess is as good as mine,” Dunivant replied when asked why Keane was sent off. “First he [referee] gives a yellow card for diving, and then compounds that mistake by giving him a red card.”
“It should have been a foul,” Mike Magee said of the dive called on Keane. “The guy [referee] decided he was going to puff his chest out and give Robbie a yellow, and then obviously Robbie didn’t have a great reaction with it. He should have just called the foul in the first place.”
Michael Stephens came on for Beckham, in the 80th minute, and apparently Stephens took too long to come onto the field, and was shown yellow for time wasting.
"I think that may have been the fastest card in the history of soccer,” Stephens said after the match.
But LA would respond to the very questionable calls two minutes later when Stephens made a great run down the flank and found Juninho in the box, who tapped it home. It was 4-1 LA in the 82nd minute.
In the 87th minute, Metapan would get one back when Bryan Gaul was called for a foul in the box and a penalty was awarded. Munoz finished that to make it 4-2.
But LA would add one more in stoppage time, when Juninho got his second of the match.
While there were a lot of wild calls made, it was important to note that the Galaxy didn’t lose composure, and were able to score even when playing with only 10 men.
“It’s all about our character and how we handle it and I thought our team did well,” defender Sean Franklin said after the game. “We got two goals after we were down a man, and we got to do the same thing next week when we play against Puerto Rico. We don’t know how the refs are going to be, we don’t know how the games are going to go. It’s all about adjusting to it and making sure that we do our part.”
Keane will miss the next CONCACAF Champions League match against the Puerto Rico Islanders, but the three points and big scoreline will be important for the Galaxy going forward in the CCL group stages.
“Making a transition into this circus sometimes is unbelievable,” head coach Bruce Arena said of making the switch from MLS play to the CCL. “It’s very difficult on MLS teams. I sometimes wonder why we spend all the resources and time we do in this competition when sometimes it’s looks really bizarre.”
But Arena said there were no excuses to be made—teams should expect this going into CONCACAF matches, and be prepared for it.
LA must quickly refocus and turn their sights to the league match against FC Dallas on Sunday, then switch back to CCL for the Islanders on Thursday.