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Galaxy opens with thud

Times Staff Writer

DENVER -- When the third Colorado goal rolled into the back of the net Saturday night, Galaxy Coach Ruud Gullit turned away in disgust, slumped to the bench and, literally, threw in the towel, tossing it out toward the field.

In a victory as surprising as it was comprehensive, the injury-riddled Rapids, missing half a dozen, toyed with and ultimately embarrassed Los Angeles, 4-0, in the opening match of the Major League Soccer season for both teams.

The record 18,713 fans at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, many of whom had come to see David Beckham, and perhaps to a lesser extent Landon Donovan and Carlos Ruiz, ended up enthralled, not to say stunned, by their own team’s showing before it was over.

Colorado was faster to the ball, more lively and inventive in its approach, quick to close down defensively and, in the end, hungrier for the victory.

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Argentine playmaker Christian Gomez, the league’s most valuable player in 2006 and acquired by the Rapids in an off-season trade with D.C. United, was the best player on the field by a long way.

Gomez scored once on a penalty kick, hammered another shot off the right post that resulted in a goal off the rebound for Terry Cooke, and generally orchestrated Colorado’s catch-them-on-the-break offense.

Cooke’s goal came in the 10th minute. Gomez’s came on a very controversial penalty-kick call by referee Abbey Okulaja at the hour mark. After that, everything came unraveled for the Galaxy, which yielded breakaway goals to Omar Cummings in the 67th minute and to Colin Clark in the 80th.

Everything that could go wrong for the Galaxy did go wrong.

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Defender Abel Xavier got a red card for “abusive language” and will sit out Thursday’s home opener against the San Jose Earthquakes at the Home Depot Center. “The ref was a disgrace,” the Portuguese veteran said afterward.

Forward Carlos Ruiz suffered a sprained medial collateral ligament in his right knee near the end and is questionable for Thursday. Cummings, who committed the hard foul, also was ejected.

Beckham and Donovan were tired to begin with, having both returned only on Thursday from national team matches in Europe on Wednesday night, and looked lethargic. Playing at altitude affected the entire squad.

Galaxy defender Greg Vanney, who picked up a yellow card for a desperate rugby-like tackle, said he felt the team was “disjointed” on offense and defense.

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Like the rest of the L.A. players, Vanney questioned the penalty-kick call.

“There was not one person in the entire stadium that was screaming for a PK,” Vanney said. “He [Okulaja] kind of called it out of nowhere.”

Gullit and Beckham agreed.

“I find it hard not to criticize some of the decisions tonight, but I’ve been told I’ll be fined if I do,” Beckham said. “I don’t really want that to happen. Referees have got a tough job, we all know that, but certain decisions change games and I think that has happened tonight.”

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Asked if he has spoken to the match officials afterward, Gullit said: “No, I don’t want to talk about the officials. I have to deal with it and that’s it.”

But there was more from the Dutchman, who was making his debut as an MLS coach.

“We had troubles with the altitude,” he said. “You could see that our players were tired. All the time they were one step behind.”

Summing up his own performance, Donovan might have been speaking for the team.

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“I never felt like I was in the game,” he said.

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grahame.jones@latimes.com


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