It wasn’t pretty, but the LA Galaxy walk away from the Houston Dynamo three points richer and having wrapped up the third spot in the Western Conference. This positioning guarantees them a home playoff game on October 26th or 27th and currently means they’d play Sporting KC with just one regular season game remaining.
But this game should really be recognized for what it was – a game of grit and determination with just a little bit of luck sprinkled in. A lineup that was devoid of Robbie Keane (hip flexor), Steven Gerrard (hamstring), and Gyasi Zardes (broken foot) – all with injuries – but was full of fight. With the 35-year-old Birthday Boy, Alan Gordon, finding his third goal of the season in what amounted to a broken clearance near the goal line that seemed to rebound off him and bounce into the net. It was a play of persistence and stubbornness more than anything else, and it perfectly describes the way in which the LA Galaxy survived this game.
Landon Donovan, when speaking to Spectrum SportsNet after the game, acknowledged the grinding performance his team just put forth. “When you look across the board, you’re not going to get any 10’s tonight from people – (no one was) technically brilliant… But you’re going to get a lot of 7’s and 8’s from guys that just put in a real effort.”
The starting lineup included Donovan for the first time since he ended his retirement. You’d have to go back to MLS Cup 2014 to find the last game Landon was named to a starting Lineup. Also missing from this lineup was Jelle Van Damme, who was suspended due to yellow card accumulation. Starting in his spot was Daniel Steres, who was paired with AJ DeLaGarza.
#LAGalaxy XI: Rowe; Rogers, DLG, Steres, Cole; Husidic, Lletget; Donovan, Dos Santos, Boateng; Gordon #HOUvLA pic.twitter.com/GOIc0a3nW3
— LA Galaxy (@LAGalaxy) October 16, 2016
The only other surprising change was that Jeff Larentowicz moved to the bench in place of Baggio Husidic who paired with Sebastian Lletget in the center of the midfield. It wasn’t the best pairing for Lletget or the Galaxy, but Husidic and Larentowicz play such similar styles it wasn’t a stretch to see Baggio backstopping Lletget.
“We got the job done. There’s not much more to say about that,” LA Galaxy Head Coach Bruce Arena said after the game. “Not an easy day with the conditions and everything else. Certainly very challenging for both teams, to come out on top at this time of the season, when the points are important – it’s a great result for us.”
And Arena was right. The result itself was outstanding for all the reasons mentioned above, but it was also timely. With a team that has been rumored to be dealing with some sort of a team rift or leadership gap, the team on the field at least, battled for points in a hot and humid Houston – kickoff saw a heat index of about 95 degrees – and a Dynamo team that was content to cede possession in hopes of catching LA out of position. And if Houston’s quality would’ve been better they would’ve caught the Galaxy out of position multiple times.
In the first 45 minutes, the Dynamo easily had three or four counter attacks that stretched LA’s defense past the breaking point. But they hesitated on some breaks and completely fouled others that rarely resulted in LA being tested. A small testament to a hard-working backline that gave little in the way of clear-cut chances but also a sign that this year hasn’t been good for Houston.
Visually, the game lacked any real flair. LA would cautiously build from the back and then come to halt just inside the attacking third where they’d misplay a ball after trying to break down a bunkering Dynamo only to see Houston dart back up the field in a poorly finished attack.
Not to mention, the entire game was constantly being challenged by the harsh shadows and rooflines of BBVA Compass Stadium. This made the television viewing almost unwatchable. Houston donning black home kits that completely disappeared into the inky shadows and the Galaxy in white kits exploding into the overexposed sunlight.
Emmanuel Boateng had the most impressive flurry of energy and shooting when, just before halftime, he took two sharp angled shots that forced Dynamo ‘keeper Joe Willis to perry away two consecutive shots.
“They were [hard to break down]. You have to win these types of games and we haven’t won enough of them this year. That’s why we have 15 draws on our record. We killed ourselves at times this year by not being able to get a result on days like this. Give the Dynamo a lot of credit given that they’ve been eliminated from the playoffs – they still come out every game. I think it was last Saturday against Colorado – they gave them a hard game, I thought they could of gotten a result there. They obviously got a result in Seattle [on Wednesday] and fought to the closing minutes with us. So, I give [Houston Dynamo interim head coach] Wade [Barrett] a lot of credit for the job he’s done.” Bruce Arena, LA Galaxy Head Coach
In the end, it was the substitution of Landon Donovan in the 63rd minute for Mike Magee that probably turned this game around. And it wasn’t that Donovan was poor on the night, he wasn’t. He was just completely out of gas.
Magee took a pass from Gordon in the middle of the field as they approached the penalty box. Finding space, he then took a low right footed shot to the far post that Joe Willis was able to get a hand to but wasn’t able to clear out of danger. Defender David Horst found the ball lying inches from his goalkeeper but rolling away. And in an effort to clear the ball away from goal turned his weak right-footed clearance directly up the middle where Alan Gordon was working to quickly shut down the ball. Horst’s kick struck Gordon in his feet and the ball directed across the line and in for the goal.
The 72nd-minute goal was all the LA Galaxy would need to outlast Houston and capture three away points. Bringing their season total to 51 and getting 20 points from road games this season. A road point total that is greatly improved since gather 12 points on the road in 2015.
Now the LA Galaxy get ready for their final game, a match against Supporters’ Shield leaders FC Dallas. And a team that will be looking to complete their domination of the Galaxy so far this year. Dallas eliminated LA from the US Open Cup Semi-Finals earlier this year and also eliminated LA from the Supporters’ Shield race when they met earlier in October.
That game will be played on “Decision Day” as all 20 MLS teams will kick off at 1PM Pacific Time on October 23rd, in an effort to eliminate any competitive advantage by knowing other teams’ results. That game will have Supporters Shield implications for Dallas as they attempt to hold off the Colorado Rapids for the Domestic Double (US Open Cup and Supporters’ Shield).
LA – Alan Gordon 72’
QUOTE OF THE GAME
Alan Gordon on scoring 3 goals in the last 5 games:
“Yeah, I’ve always been proud of the work I do, not just the goals. So I want to work hard for the team and provide a strong presence up top for the team. The goals are just a plus.”
LA GALAXY MAN OF THE MATCH
Alan Gordon wins the MOTM from me this week. He wasn’t perfect, he wasn’t outstanding, and this probably wasn’t his best game, but he worked for basically 90 minutes and didn’t give up. For that, you have to tip your hat and wish him a very Happy Birthday.
Honorable mention goes to Giovani dos Santos who seemed to have more energy that most in the 90-degree heat and made a couple of defensive runs deep into his own half that helped the Galaxy handle Houston. He had some great looks at goal that didn’t come off right, but his confidence is rising. He’ll be important in the playoffs.