Despite returning to LA with a comeback draw in Toronto and a cushion of two away-goals, the LA Galaxy dropped their second straight match at home, losing 2-1 to Toronto FC in the second leg of their CONCACAF Champions League Quarterfinal. With the win TFC send the Galaxy out of the competition 4-3 on aggregate and will advance to the semifinals to face Santos Laguna of Mexico.
Behind goals from forwards Ryan Johnson and Nick Soolsma, Toronto were able to pull off what would have been unthinkable leading up their quarterfinal tangle with LA. The win, and subsequent progression to the semifinal stages of the continental competition, is arguably the biggest moment in the team’s history.
For LA, it was much of the same story that has played out in their first two competitive matches of 2012. Poor defending and equally poor finishing were once again the undoing of the reigning MLS Cup champions, who many had picked as favorites to raise the CCL trophy coming into the year.
In need of a goal to have any chance of progressing, TFC started the match’s scoring through Johnson’s far post header in the 33rd minute. Having scored the opening goal in the team’s home fixture of the tie, Johnson was able to drift behind rookie centerback Tommy Meyer to loft his against-the-grain header into the side of the Galaxy net.
Meyer was at fault for ball watching as Soolsma’s cross came in, but equally sharing in the blame will have to be his centerback partner AJ De La Garza. It was his poorly headed clearance right to Soolsma that led to the cross, and LA would head into the break down 1-0 and behind on aggregate.
In the second half, LA slowly but surely started to put together a decent go at Toronto, and were rewarded for the pressure they put on a shaky TFC backline.
Exploiting the outer edges of the Toronto defense with decent success to begin the half, LA captain Landon Donovan found space on the outside of the TFC left flank and played an early ball across the box to an onrushing Robbie Keane. Doing his best to cut out the dangerous ball, Toronto defender Ty Harden was only able to redirect the pass into his own net. The own goal in the 55th minute leveled the score at 1-1, and put LA back in control, as the result would mean they advance on away goals.
However, the brief hold the Galaxy had on the match would once again come under attack by Johnson, with help from the Galaxy defense. And once again, it was the rookie, Meyer, right in the middle of action.
The first-year defender, in only his second ever professional start, was unable to keep Johnson from turning him at the top of the Galaxy box, and failed to close the TFC forward near the Galaxy goal line. With time to survey his options, Johnson found a criminally unmarked Soolsma, who finished confidently from the center of the Galaxy box, giving LA keeper Josh Saunders no chance.
Now up the in the match and leading the aggregate score for the tie after the 67th minute goal, Toronto FC bunkered down for what would an end-to-end finish in which both teams missed golden chances.
Toronto could have easily put the fixture to bed when Luis Silva found himself free in the Galaxy box but dragged his right-footed shot just wide of Saunders’ far post. And even after surviving the Silva miss, LA still had their chances.
Keane was sent clear on a one-on-one with TFC keeper Milos Kocic, filling in for the injured Stefan Frei, but the Irishman could only manage a few slight feints and head fakes before his attempted chip was spectacularly palmed aside by Kocic. And with a final opportunity, the Galaxy’s CCL hero in the competition’s group stages, Juninho, collected and turned amid a scramble in the TFC, but was only to fire his shot just over the bar.
Sinking to the 2-1 loss, the team that had blamed fatigue for their poor start following an embarrassing home loss to Real Salt Lake will have another quick turn around when they take on DC United Sunday at the Home Depot Center.
Maybe the Galaxy can take solace knowing their tired legs will have at least two less games to deal with now that they’ve crashed out of the North and Central American tournament. But the bigger question will now be, if the team manages to put it all together and somehow pull out back-to-back MLS Cups, will this loss tonight remain a permanent blemish on the team’s season?