As the blinding brilliance of Spain flashed out from the Ukraine on Sunday, it had one unfortunate consequence -- it cast into the shadows a slice of superb soccer that had occurred on Saturday evening, right here in the USA.
As a soccer game, as a 90-minute event, the San Jose-Los Angeles Galaxy battle really offered more than the Euro 2012 final. Because it was played full out, for the whole game, by two equally matched teams, with a constantly swaying scoreline. We got seven goals and an eventual 4-3 win for the Earthquakes.
Above all, we got a hell of a game. This was the complete soccer package. A 50,000 crowd that seemed, from the opening whistle, to be loudly and knowledgeably into the game, creating a superb atmosphere that MLS games usually struggle to achieve. It was billed as the California clasico, and, for once the event lived up to its billing.
The pace of the game was quite amazing. Even the obligatory caution of the opening “feeling-out” process didn’t last too long -- just six minutes actually, until Marvin Chavez hit a wicked knuckle-ball of a shot that goalkeeper Josh Saunders couldn’t deal with -- he ended up palming the ball straight into the path of Steven Lenhart, and the Quakes were 1-0 up.
Chavez typified the game -- a lively, skillful player threatening to go forward at every opportunity, ever ready to shoot on goal. Going the other way, there was Robbie Keane, not in his best form, but with Landon Donovan and Mike Magee looking good, that hardly mattered. Chavez got into the action again, trying to defend. Of course, he did it badly, fouling Magee and giving the Galaxy a free kick from 20 yards. Perfect for David Beckham, who made the most of it with a tremendous free kick goal -- it’s difficult to imagine how a free kick could be better executed than this one, with the ball stroked just high enough to get it over the wall, and enough spin on it to bring it down just under the cross bar. And this wasn’t a flighted chip - this was a solidly struck drive. Brilliant goal.
Soon after that came a short spell that San Jose defender Jason Hernandez will be keen to forget. First, he turned a low cross from the Galaxy’s Hector Jimenez into his own goal. Five minutes later, he prodded the ball nonchalantly back towards his goalkeeper Jon Busch, somehow not seeing that Magee was in front of Busch. Magee snapped up the gift, passed the ball to Jimenez, who relayed it quickly to Landon Donovan for an easy finish.
Yet such was the energy in this game, whether the ball was traveling left to right or right to left, it was impossible to imagine that San Jose could not respond. It took just three minutes, when defender Victor Bernardez went forward for a Chavez corner kick, and neatly volleyed in to make it 3-2 for the Galaxy.
In added time, a picture-book flying save by Busch from a Magee shot kept the scoreline that way. But Busch was hurting -- earlier he had collided with Bernardez, and was now sporting a severely swollen left eye.
No surprise when he didn’t come out for the second half then, replaced by 22-year-old David Bingham, with maybe a couple of pro games to his credit. Some of the pressure on him was relieved rather quickly -- barely two minutes into the second half, defensive midfielder Sam Cronin raced into the Galaxy box to get on the end of a seeing-eye 40-yard pass from Steven Beitashour and score the tying goal.
The Quakes upped the pressure -- and Galaxy goalie Saunders made amends for his error on the Quakes’ first goal by making a rapid-fire series of three last-ditch saves from Chris Wondolowski, Rafael Baca and then Wondolowski again. But Wondo was to have the last say, after another Chavez corner kick -- this one at the 61st minute, flicked on by Ramiro Corrales into the heart of the penalty area where Wondo, with his back to the goal, invented a goal with a neat back heel.
It was frantic, breathless action and the roar of the crowd accompanied the celebrations as Wondo and a group of San Jose players ran behind the goal to exchange high-fives with the armed service guys who had been allowed to stand there -- as satisfying a goal celebration as you could wish for.
On it went -- the Galaxy came roaring back and looked certain to tie things up when Beckham ran clean through, one-on-one with goalie Bingham. Beckham’s shot was on target, but Bingham’s flying leap turned it away. The Galaxy blasted shots at the San Jose goal, loudly appealed for hand-ball penalty kicks on a couple of occasions and then saw Lopes’ header come back off the crossbar, for the ball to be somehow scrambled away by a now ragged Earthquake defense.
Almost at the end, Beckham, evidently irritated by what he considered time-wasting, kicked the ball towards where referee Hilario Grajeda was bending over Cronin, who was on the ground receiving treatment. With deadly Beckham accuracy, the ball hit both Grajeda and Cronin -- not violently, but not just rolling up to them either. Beckham got a yellow.
No more scoring. It finished 4-3 to the Quakes. And it finished with the crowd booing Beckham. That yellow card -- abundantly deserved -- seemed to have unhinged him, as he made threatening advances towards some of the Quake players.
A disappointing end to a tremendously entertaining and exciting game. But ... not to LA coach Bruce Arena, who declared it “a sloppy game.”.Arena also found it necessary to blast the referee. The accusation of poor (implying anti-Galaxy) refereeing after an LA defeat has become a commonplace now. That, too, is disappointing.
It was, after all, rather ridiculous for Arena to blame his own teams’s defensive weakness for giving up two goals, when two of the Galaxy’s three goals came as the result of errors by the Quakes’ Hernandez.
And now, when the fervor and the sheer enjoyment of that game -- it might well be the best MLS game ever -- has subsided, we wait to see whether MLS will add any extra punishment to the one-game suspension Beckham now faces for yellow-card accumulation.
So far, in his five years here, Beckham’s record of escaping disciplinary action for his criticism of referees, for his on-field wild tackles and for his yelling, finger-jabbing confrontations with officials is exemplary. All of his abusive behavior has been ignored.