MLSers win, but can’t roll back near-impossible deficit

Luis Bueno
August 5, 2010

Todd Dunivant said LA needed to play a perfect game to progress to the Champions League group stages.

Todd Dunivant said LA needed to play a perfect game to progress to the Champions League group stages. (Getty Images)

The Los Angeles Galaxy had perhaps their most hollow victory of 2010 Wednesday, despite snapping a three-match winless streak in Puerto Rico.

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An 84th-minute goal from Sean Franklin gave the Galaxy a 2-1 win over the Islanders in a CONCACAF Champions League Preliminary Round match in Bayamon, Puerto Rico, but the victory was not good enough to overcome a July 27 loss at Home Depot Center.

Puerto Rico thus advances to the Champions League group stage while the Galaxy will now focus on getting back to solid footing in Major League Soccer play.

“It is disappointing,” Galaxy defender Todd Dunivant said of not participating in the tournament. “We had our sights set on it.”

Needing a four-goal road victory was always going to be difficult, but such was the scenario the Galaxy set up for themselves.

“You can’t go down 4-1 at home and expect too much out of it,” Dunivant said. “We certainly came in with the mentality that we were going to go for the win, and we just fell a little short.”

Galaxy coach Bruce Arena fielded a strong team, with Dunivant (the Galaxy’s minutes leader on the season) and Donovan Ricketts back for the second leg. Landon Donovan and Edson Buddle, who each received a call-up to the US National Team for the US-Brazil match Tuesday in New Jersey, went the distance as well.

If the series was lost at Home Depot Center, the Galaxy were unaware.

“It certainly wasn’t going to be easy, but we never for one minute thought that we couldn’t do it,” Dunivant said. “We had chances. We could have put one in before the half and really put them under fire mentally. At the end of the day it was a very difficult task. We had a very good game, put them under pressure and did what we needed to do but just fell a little short at the end.”

Needing four goals to have a chance of advancing, the Galaxy were dealt a blow when the Islanders were rewarded a penalty kick on the half hour as Edson Buddle was ruled to have knocked down Marco Velez inside the box.

That only complicated the near-impossible.

“We knew that we had to score four goals one way or another, so the referee bailed them out early with a PK call but it didn’t really matter,” Dunivant said. “We kept putting pressure on them, kept putting balls in and kept putting them under fire. Give them credit, they withstood it. They did a good job of holding the fort down.”

The Galaxy and Puerto Rico were seemingly on the opposite sides of the spectrum entering the tournament. The high-flying Galaxy had been having one of the best regular-season performances in recent MLS history while second-division Puerto Rico had struggled throughout their own league season.

“It’s a team on paper you should beat but that’s not how soccer is played. New Zealand proved that in the World Cup when they came out and tied Italy,” Dunivant said. “When you play smart defensive soccer, you get results and they couldn’t have played a more perfect game in LA. We helped them along a little bit and made some errors but give them credit – they capitalized on them and pounced on every chance and scored some unbelievable goals.”

Solely winning the game was not going to get the job done as the Galaxy needed much more than that, but it was not the Galaxy’s night.

“They played a perfect game in LA and we had to play a perfect game [Wednesday],” Dunivant said. “We had a good game, but ultimately it wasn’t enough.”