Galaxy Really at a Loss

Times Staff Writer

Carlos Ruiz tugged at his baseball cap, rubbed his face and looked blankly into the distance as he let out a lengthy sigh in a somber Galaxy locker room.

"Very frustrating," Ruiz said under his breath. "It's sad. To give up five goals in a playoff game, unbelievable."

There are collapses and then there's the epic folding act the defending MLS champion Galaxy pulled Sunday night.

The Galaxy's season came to an inglorious end as it blew an aggregate four-goal lead in the two-game, first-round playoff series and lost the series, 5-4 and the game, 5-2, by surrendering five unanswered goals to the previously punchless San Jose Earthquakes. The winning goal came in the sixth minute of a golden-goal series tiebreaker period.

After scoring twice in the game's first 13 minutes, the Galaxy, which had beaten San Jose, 2-0, in the first game of the series, had all but booked its flight to Kansas City for the Western Conference final.

Instead, the Earthquakes will play host to the Wizards on Saturday for the one-game playoff with the winner advancing to the MLS Cup title match on Nov. 23 at the Galaxy's Carson home field, the Home Depot Center.

The Galaxy had not surrendered more than two goals in any game this year and the Earthquakes had scored only once in the 602 minutes they had played before the match.

"This is beyond my wildest dreams," Galaxy defender Danny Califf said. "We fell apart. We decided that it was better to just sit back and defend.

"We started out strong but for some reason we didn't have the confidence to keep playing.

"We thought it was over and thought we could just defend the lead."

In the seventh minute, Hong Myung-Bo's free kick from about 30 yards out on the left wing found Ruiz in the middle of the box as he beat San Jose defender Jeff Agoos to the ball and headed it into the net.

Six minutes later, the Galaxy used the counterattack to score its second goal.

Alejandro Moreno, coming down the right wing, found a streaking Peter Vagenas in the middle of the field. Vagenas' shot hit the right post and ricocheted into the net for his first goal since Oct. 13, 2001, and the Galaxy, which had hushed the Spartan Stadium crowd of 14,145, was on its way.

No one thought it would be home for the winter though.

"On this field, you can never be comfortable because it's just so small and it's a sloppy field ... it's a hard place to play at," Galaxy Coach Sigi Schmid said, referring to the slippery conditions the Bay Area's weekend rain showers had created.

"Obviously when you're up 2-0, so in aggregate you're up 4-0, that's something that you've got to look at your heart and soul if you give that away."

The furious rally began with an Agoos score off a free kick from 20 yards out in the 21st minute before Landon Donovan scored in the 35th minute.

Jamil Walker, a rookie forward making his first start, scored the third San Jose goal in the 50th minute when he outjumped a slew of Galaxy players in the box to head in Richard Mulrooney's free kick.

And though the Galaxy was losing the game by a goal, it was a minute and stoppage time away from advancing to its sixth straight MLS semifinal.

But that's when San Jose defender Chris Roner went over Galaxy captain Cobi Jones to head in another Mulrooney free kick to tie the series at four goals apiece.

Rodrigo Faria, taking a pass from Donovan on a breakaway, beat goalkeeper Kevin Hartman to end the Galaxy's season.

"You could tell from the get-go that it was going to go their way because some of the calls they were getting at the top of the box," said defender Tyrone Marshall, who was beaten by Faria on the series-winner.

"I mean, any time you touch Landon and he goes down it's a foul. You can tell who they're protecting and who they want to move on.

"But still, we've got to come in and play ... it's unacceptable to give up five goals."

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