What looked like a good result for San Jose Earthquakes against LA Galaxy in the first leg of the Western Conference semifinal turned into an ever better one as the game was coming to an end.
Quakes appeared satisfied with a scoreless draw before taking the game back to Santa Clara, when four minutes into stoppage time they were awarded a free kick 31 yards away from goal. Victor Bernandez stood up to take it and with the long run he sent it on low and on target. The ball changed direction as it touched someone in the wall, and went right underneath Galaxy's goalkeeper Josh Saunders, giving Quakes 1-0 lead right before the final whistle. Saunders is the most to blame for the goal - as by the time the ball reached him, it wasn't flying fast and he should have caught it.
"It was a great strike by Victor," said the Quakes head coach Frank Yallop. "He hit it well and got a fortunate deflection, but you have to give him credit for it. That was a big goal for us."
The Quakes have done it once again this season, scoring fifth stoppage time winner, and 10th overall stoppage time goal. This has been such an unprecedented way to win games for the Quakes this season that Chicago Fire player Daniel Gargan tweeted right after the game, "This San Jose Earthquakes team is about to get turned in to a Disney movie. This is absurd."
Very few signs pointed to an ending like this. For most of the game, it was LA Galaxy that looked like a better team. The Quakes pushed the pace early on, with Chris Wondolowski having a good chance to score after a run on the wing following a throw in. But with time, Galaxy took over the ball possession (having 57.4% advantage for the game), and they looked poised to open the score.
No one looked more dangerous on the field than did an Irish superstar Robbie Keane. After scoring 16 goals in his first MLS regular season, Keane was ready to make an impact in MLS playoffs and it showed. He finished the game with five shots, with two best ones coming in the second half. On 71st minute he carried the ball into the Quakes penalty box after a good run and put a good shot on goal, but missed the target just wide. Then 15 minutes later LA created their best scoring chance all game after Mike Magee delivered the ball to Landon Donovan who quickly flicked it to Keane. Irish striker fired it high, but the ball hit the cross bar and was cleared by the Quakes defense.
Quakes played a conservative game all night, staying behind the ball. They also did not have much success in developing the game in the midfield. They are very dangerous when allowed space and speed on the wings, but Galaxy did a good job to limit those opportunities. Quakes midfielders did not do a good job with their passing for most of the night. They looked flat and slow compared to how they looked during most games in the regular season.
But in the end, they still found a way to score a goal and take 1-0 advantage in the series as it now moves back to Buck Shaw Stadium where both teams will play again on Wednesday night. All season long San Jose Earthquakes have shown the spirit of not giving up until the final whistle is blown, and this time it was LA Galaxy as a victim. But the series is far from over and anything can happen in the second leg.
"We just talked about it in the locker room, it is only halftime now," said Frank Yallop. "We have to go back out there on Wednesday and have another good performance and I am sure that the Galaxy will be up for it. We are ready for another difficult game."