[MLS PLAYOFFS: Los Angeles-New York] The Red Bulls gave the Galaxy a scare when Luke Rodgers scored in the third minute to tie the series, 1-1, on aggregate, but Los Angeles held sway the rest of the way and with goals by Mike Magee and Landon Donovan posted a 2-1 win to advance, 3-1, on aggregate to host Real Salt Lake Sunday.
THE REAL MAGEE. However much time the Red Bulls spent preparing for ways the Galaxy attack might exploit them through Mike Magee, it wasn’t enough.
The former MetroStar, in essence, decided the series. His crisp volley in the first leg downed New York, 1-0, and late in the first half of the second game with the aggregate tied, 1-1, he held off Dane Richards on a corner kick and from the short side of the goal area sweetly met David Beckham’s delivery with a header that zoomed into the roof of the net.
He went the full 90 minutes in both games, working both flanks as well as sliding into the middle to support Beckham and Chris Birchall, who got the start in place of the suspended Juninho. Magee's regular-season totals of five goals in 27 matches (20 starts) seem modest, yet he ranked third on the team behind only Donovan and Chad Barrett.
BIRCHALL AND BECKS. The midfield battle lacking Juninho and Rafael Marquez seemed up for grabs until Red Bull stalwart Teemu Tainio hobbled off in the 15th minute, to be replaced by Stephane Auvray. New York coach Hans Backe could have switched Joel Lindpere into the center from left mid but chose not to.
The Galaxy might have held sway anyway, but aside from a few crafty balls played by Thierry Henry when he peeled away from the front line, most of the time the middle of the field belonged to Los Angeles. Birchall sweated through his socks to cover the middle but also ranged outside; with two determined tracking runs he dispossessed Richards near the right touchline and on the opposite flank cleanly swept a ball from the feet of Luke Rodgers. He also hit a scorching shot that New York keeper Frank Rost bobbled before sensationally saving Robbie Keane’s follow-up.
Beckham shook off a minor injury late in the first half – he appeared to have wrenched his back and needed a few minutes to regain his bearings – and after insistently getting back on the field despite inquiries from trainers and coaches. A few minutes later swung the corner kick that Magee delivered into the net.
Donovan clinched the game and the series in the 75th minute with a penalty kick earned by Beckham, who drove forward to play a ball that caromed off defender Roy Miller’s arm. After a brief appeal for a handball call, Beckham regained possession and shielded Miller, who shoved and kicked Beckham.
OMAR’s NIGHT. Rodgers scored when Henry’s through ball caught Omar Gonzalez on the wrong side and Rodgers clinically drove a shot along the ground past keeper Josh Saunders. The play was nearly repeated in the second half, with Gonzalez again caught out of position, but this time he was able to get back inside Rodgers and impeded him enough that the Red Bull forward’s shot hit the side netting outside the post.
Gonzalez overall played a strong game and aside from those two plays, seldom did the Red Bulls get a clean look at goal from close range. It is essential for a centerback to find the right starting position, especially on through balls that can present an immediate threat to goal, and this is a facet of defending Gonzalez is still developing.
REMATCH. By beating Seattle in the other Western Conference semifinal (when is the league going to drop these meaningless geographical designations for the playoffs?), Real Salt Lake set up a rematch of the 2009 MLS Cup in Seattle, in which RSL beat the Galaxy on penalties, 5-4, after a 1-1 tie.
Robbie Findley scored for RSL in that match. The Galaxy goalscorer? Some guy named Magee, who also converted his penalty in the shootout.