“Trash the Clash” said the hand-lettered sign held by one of the Galaxians, that bizarrely clad group of drum-beating, weird-hat-wearing Los Angeles Galaxy supporters who congregate at the south end of the Rose Bowl for each Major League Soccer home game.
Taking the message to heart, the Galaxy finally broke out of its two-month slump Sunday and defeated the San Jose Clash, 4-2, in front of 14,179 surprised but delighted fans.
The victory, powered by Eduardo Hurtado’s 19th and 20th goals, accomplished three things. It put the Galaxy back in first place in the Western Conference for the first time in more than a month, it left the team one victory shy of clinching the conference title and it completed a four-game season sweep of San Jose.
The latter point is important because if the Galaxy (17-13) finishes first, the Clash (14-16) is likely to be its opponent in the first round of the playoffs.
“Just because we do have a horrendous record against them, I don’t think that should scare us off,” said San Jose’s Eric Wynalda, who scored a late penalty kick goal. “We’ve just got to contain Hurtado.”
That was easier said than done Sunday. “The Tank” was in rare form, with his second goal particularly stunning.
Breaking free up the middle in the 83rd minute, he faked San Jose defender John Doyle to the outside, then cut back inside. Doyle recovered, but Hurtado cut back to the outside, sending Doyle clattering into goalkeeper Tom Liner and leaving them both sprawled in a heap as he side-footed the ball into an empty net.
Five minutes earlier, he had slotted a penalty kick past Liner after defender Michael Emenalo was rather cruelly judged to have handled a cross by Cobi Jones inside the penalty area.
“I thought we were in control of the game at the time the penalty kick was awarded,” San Jose Coach Laurie Calloway said.
The Clash had cut the Galaxy’s 2-0 halftime lead to 2-1 in the 69th minute. Ben Iroha sent a pass in from the left wing, the Galaxy’s Guillermo Jara only half-cleared it and the ball fell to Paul Bravo, who drove it into the back of the net from about 10 yards out.
Earlier in the half, Wynalda had banged a free kick off the crossbar from about 20 yards out after Iroha was fouled. Luck has not been with San Jose in the series, a point Calloway was quick to make when asked about a possible three-game playoff series.
“Lothar [Osiander, the Galaxy coach] has been extremely lucky in two or three of the games against us,” he said. “We controlled them in the first game in San Jose but gave a stupid goal away in the last five minutes. We outplayed them last week in San Jose. [Goalkeeper Jorge] Campos should have been sent off [for a foul]. It was an absolutely diabolical decision. We would have won that game.
“Things seem to have gone against us in this series. Maybe the playoff season will be different. We’ll see, won’t we? I’d much rather be 2-0 or 2-1 against L.A. in the playoffs than 4-0 in the regular season. If we play them in the playoffs, then we’ll see who has the last laugh.”
To get to that point, that Galaxy will have to win one of two games against the Dallas Burn. The first is at the Cotton Bowl on Thursday, the second is at the Rose Bowl on Sunday. The Galaxy is 0-2 against Dallas this season. The Burn is the only MLS team it has not beaten.
It took the Galaxy only 12 minutes to get on the scoreboard against the Clash. Curt Onalfo sent a high cross in from the left, Hurtado headed the ball sharply downward toward the goal and Harut Karapetyan was well placed to slip the ball into the net.
In the 32nd minute, Chris Armas made it 2-0 when he drilled a shot into the upper left corner from close range after latching onto a header by Arash Noamouz from a cross by Karapetyan.
By then, Osiander was already looking toward the playoffs and another meeting with the Clash.
“I’d rather play them first than anyone else,” he said. “I think Dallas and Kansas City both are stronger teams.”