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Jones Is Back to His Old Self as Galaxy Defeats Wizards

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Just like any guy returning from summer vacation, Cobi Jones needed some time to get back into the swing of things at work.

After two months away at the World Cup, Jones needed to reacquaint himself with his co-workers.

“It took a little bit for the team to get used to me,” he said. “To remember how I played.”

The fleet midfielder reminded them in a big way, recovering from an awkward first half to score a brilliant late goal that lifted the Galaxy to a 2-0 victory over the Kansas City Wizards at the Rose Bowl on Saturday night.

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As Coach Octavio Zambrano put it: “In the second half. . .he was back to his old self.”

His “Welcome Back” party was attended by a crowd of 53,655, the largest for any single game in Major League Soccer this season. The fans had come to see the postgame fireworks but also to see how good Los Angeles (15-2) might be with the triumvirate of Jones, his old teammate Welton and the newly acquired Carlos Hermosillo.

But the crowd would have to wait a while for that particular combination. Welton was kept on the bench the entire first half for what Zambrano delicately called “issues within the team.”

That left a void outside, a space that was quickly filled by Ezra Hendrickson. The leading scorer among MLS defenders, Hendrickson showed his speed along the flank, beating the Kansas City defense several times in the early going.

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In the eighth minute, he took a pass from Mauricio Cienfuegos, sprinted past his man on the right wing and sent a hard cross into the box. Clint Mathis beat Wizard defender Scott Vermillion to the ball and, with goalkeeper Mike Ammann frozen to the near post, scored into an open goal.

“It was a great run by Ezra,” Mathis said. “I went for the post and he just ripped it in there.”

After that, however, Kansas City (7-10) dominated play for the remainder of the half and well into the final 45 minutes.

With Wizard midfielder Preki effectively shadowed by Galaxy defender Paul Caligiuri, forwards Paul Wright and Paul Rideout created most of their team’s chances. They were helped by the fact that Los Angeles keeper Kevin Hartman was playing on a bruised foot.

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“He wasn’t really 100%,” Zambrano said. “But I thought he was good enough to go out there and give it a go.”

On two occasions, Hartman charged out from the goal and let the ball get behind him. Mathis and Hermosillo were on hand to make last-gasp clearing plays. It was frustrating for a Kansas City team that has struggled to finish its opportunities this season.

“What can you do?” Coach Ron Newman wondered. “We started to take the ball at them, but we have to get it into the net.”

Wright had two especially promising shots in the second half. The first sailed just wide. The second was bobbled, but eventually controlled, by a sliding Hartman.

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Then, just when it seemed that Kansas City was bound to score, Jones came up with the play of the game.

It came in the 67th minute with him skittering down the left wing. He passed ahead to Martin Machon, who lofted the ball into the box. Hermosillo’s header bounced off the far post, but before either of two defenders could react, Jones flashed in to put away the rebound.

“It came right back to me,” Jones said. “A perfect set-up.”

Just that quickly, Los Angeles began getting all the shots.

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There was a chance for Welton who, having served his penance, came in for the final 21 minutes.

There were two more shots that found the back of the net for Jones, though they were nullified by an offside and a foul.

There was yet a third nullified goal--this one by Hermosillo.

It mattered not. Los Angeles had wrapped up its fifth consecutive victory to maintain the best record in the league.

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