Defeat continues to stalk the Los Angeles Galaxy, moving closer with each game. But, inexplicably, the Galaxy stays one step ahead.
It did so again Thursday night, this time by the narrowest of margins as Coach Lothar Osiander's squad somehow found the means to turn a one-goal deficit with less than five minutes to play into a 3-2 shootout victory over the New England Revolution.
The Foxboro Stadium crowd of 20,236 was ready to celebrate a rare Revolution win when it was snatched from their grasp.
The conjuring trick for the Galaxy this time was performed by midfielder Mark Semioli, whose left-footed shot with 4:18 to play tied the score, 2-2, and Jorge Campos, who blocked New England's last two shootout attempts to secure the win.
As a result, Los Angeles is 9-0.
"They [the victories] come harder and harder," a visibly relieved Osiander said. It was the Galaxy's first experience with a shootout, but the players appeared unperturbed.
Guilleromo Jara, Robin Fraser and Cobi Jones each scored in the shootout, in which players go one-on-one against the goalkeeper from 35 yards with five seconds to shoot.
Brazilian forward Welton and Rob Ukrop scored on New England's first two attempts, but Darren Sawatzky missed wide right. That left Los Angeles ahead, 3-2, with two rounds to go.
Mauricio Cienfuegos tried to chip Revolution goalkeeper Aidan Heaney, but Heaney reached up to make the save. Campos then made a foot save against New England's Victor Mella. Gregg Vanney could have clinched the Galaxy victory with the next shot, but missed wide left.
When Campos made another foot save, this time against Paul Keegan, it was all over. New England (4-5) lost its first shootout in three tries.
"They're devastated," Revolution Coach Frank Stapleton said of his players. "You can see it on their faces. They know this was a game they played well enough to have won."
And New England would have won had it managed to corral Semioli in the closing minutes. The former Stanford player took a fine pass from Brad Wilson, cut inside a defender and unleashed a shot that eluded Heaney and found the upper left corner of the net.
"Most of the time he hits them over the bar, but he hit this one exceptionally well, right into the corner," Osiander said. "There was nothing the keeper could do."
Said Galaxy midfielder Jorge Salcedo: "Semi scored a great clutch goal and he hit it with his left foot, which I think surprised the keeper."
Seconds before scoring, Semioli was lying flat on his back, being treated for muscle cramps. The breather may have helped him.
"As I cut inside, my defender kind of slipped a little bit, so I got a step on him," Semioli said. "I saw another man come, so I cut across the goal and heard everyone yelling, 'shoot, shoot, shoot,' so I figured I might as well take a chance. You never know what can happen."
The tying goal saved what would have been a poor ending to the Galaxy's winning streak. Los Angeles took the lead in the 39th minute on an 18-yard shot by Jones and was still leading, 1-0, with less than 20 minutes to play.
But a couple of defensive lapses allowed New England to take charge. First, Argentina's Alberto Naveda beat Campos from close range after a miscue by Vanney in the 72nd minute. Then, in the 78th, Mike Burns pounced on a poor clearance and fired through a screen of players to set off the fans' short-lived celebration.
The Revolution held the advantage for only eight minutes before the Galaxy responded.
"We were getting a little nervous," said defender Dan Calichman, who, along with Fraser and Manny Motajo, did a fine job containing Welton, New England's most dangerous player. "But we never gave up."
The Galaxy ends its three-game trip on Sunday afternoon against the New York/New Jersey MetroStars at Giants Stadium, where a crowd of more than 50,000 is expected. Los Angeles will be without Jones and Fraser, both of whom will be with the U.S. national team for its opening U.S. Cup '96 game against Ireland at Foxboro Stadium.