Galaxy on the Brink of Elimination After Loss

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Galaxy has exactly two hours in which to salvage its Major League Soccer season.

Unless it can defeat the New York/New Jersey MetroStars twice on Saturday, Los Angeles' hopes of winning its first MLS title will be over for yet another year.

Coach Sigi Schmid's team put itself in this precarious position Wednesday night when it suffered its worst-ever playoff defeat, losing, 4-1, to the MetroStars in front of 12,817 at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.

The MetroStars' victory, combined with their 1-1 tie against the Galaxy at the Rose Bowl on Sunday, leaves them with four points. They need only five to clinch the quarterfinal series.

Los Angeles, meanwhile, has one point and has to win Game 3 in Pasadena on Saturday afternoon simply to force the mini-game tiebreaker that then would follow.

The Galaxy got off to the best possible start when Sasha Victorine hooked the ball into the roof of the MetroStars' net with a right-foot half-volley in only the fourth minute of play. Ezra Hendrickson had nodded the ball down from a Simon Elliott free kick and Victorine, surrounded by defenders, hit it on the turn before they could react.

The Galaxy was 11-0-2 when scoring first and could have taken complete charge moments before halftime when another Victorine shot from a sharp angle was cleared for a corner kick.

Had that shot gone in, the MetroStars might have crumbled in the second 45 minutes. Instead, they took control.

The task was made considerably easier for them less than three minutes into the second half when defender Greg Vanney was ejected after picking up his second yellow card for a foul on Rodrigo Faria.

That left Los Angeles having to play a man down for the final 42 minutes while clinging to a one-goal lead. Schmid made some tactical adjustments and hoped for the best. He moved Adam Frye from his forward position to take Craig Waibel's place at left back and moved Waibel inside to take Vanney's vacant position.

But without its two most experienced defenders--Vanney and Paul Caligiuri, who was serving a one-game suspension after being tossed out of Sunday's game--the Galaxy back line was brittle.

It withstood the MetroStars for another 23 minutes but it was only a matter of time. Coach Octavio Zambrano's team kept up incessant offensive pressure and eventually brittle turned to dust as the MetroStars scored four goals in 11 minutes.

Faria started the comeback in the 72nd minute with a superb header off an Adolfo Valencia cross. Three minutes later, Mark Chung gave the MetroStars their first lead, heading in a free kick from Daniel Hernandez after Danny Califf had fouled Valencia.

Galaxy heads began to droop and they dropped completely in the 80th minute when Faria-who had scored the MetroStars' lone goal in Sunday's tie-netted his second of the game, volleying in a cross from Petter Villegas. Less than a minute later, Valencia made it 4-1 when he took advantage of a Califf miscue when the Galaxy defender, who otherwise had played very well, momentarily lost track of the ball.

The Galaxy was left to face a dreary flight back to California today and the knowledge that it has only Friday to fix the problems and that it won't have Vanney to help.

On Saturday, it has two hours to set matters straight--90 minutes of regulation, perhaps 10 minutes of overtime, if needed, and then a 20-minute mini-game.

Two hours is not a lot, but it's enough. The MetroStars know they can't celebrate just yet.

"We're not going to forget what happened here tonight," Schmid said.

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