GALAXY 2, HOUSTON 0 (OT) : Overtime win puts Galaxy in MLS final
Talk about your high-voltage games.
On a night when the power failed twice at the Home Depot Center, Gregg Berhalter came up with just enough energy to score the winning goal in overtime Friday night to put the Galaxy into Major League Soccer’s championship final.
The final score read: Galaxy 2, Houston Dynamo 0, but it was Berhalter’s name that went up in lights.
The long-awaited goal came in the 103rd minute when David Beckham sent a free kick into the penalty area, Galaxy teammate Omar Gonzalez got a head to it and the ball bounced off defender Eddie Robinson.
It fell to Berhalter, and the 36-year-old former U.S. national team defender drove it into the back of the net while falling to the ground. It was his first goal for the Galaxy in 28 games since joining the team this season.
The second goal came on a penalty kick by Landon Donovan in the 109th minute after Houston defender Bobby Boswell had unceremoniously tripped Alan Gordon.
The goal was Donovan’s 17th in postseason play, giving him the league record for playoff goals, one more than former Galaxy player Carlos Ruiz.
Up until the overtime drama, the teams had battled each other to a standstill, neither one giving an inch.
Houston might have secured a victory late in regulation, but for a superb save by Galaxy goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts in the 79th minute.
The Jamaican international reacted with astonishing speed to a close-range header from Dynamo and U.S. national team forward Brian Ching, tipping the ball up onto and eventually over the crossbar.
One minute later, Houston had the ball in the back of the net, courtesy of Andrew Hainault, but the goal was disallowed by referee Terry Vaughn, who spotted a foul by Houston’s Luis Angel Landin on the Galaxy’s A.J. DeLaGarza.
After that, came the overtime that provided the exclamation point to a strange night.
Normally, the fact that the league’s Western Conference final was scheduled for Friday the 13th would not have been worth mentioning.
But when the lights at the stadium fail not once but twice, delaying the game in each half, it seemed that forces were at work.
The match was stopped for 18 minutes in the first half and for another 18 minutes in the second half.
That ruined the flow, naturally, but did not overly upset the crowd of 25,373, which amused itself by doing the wave during the second break.
The players, meanwhile, had little option but to stay loose by either running around on the darkened field or having the trainers work on their legs to keep them limber.
A statement released by the Home Depot Center said the outages were because of “two significant power dips in the Southern California Edison industrial grid in which the facility sits” and caused the stadium lights to reset.
It was a strange and unfortunate night for the problems to occur, what with an entire season on the line.
The Galaxy’s win puts it in the Nov. 22 MLS Cup final in Seattle, where it will play the winner of today’s Eastern Conference final in Chicago between the Chicago Fire and Real Salt Lake.
The Galaxy, which won the MLS title in 2002 and 2005, had not reached the championship match since 2005.
Houston, meanwhile, won the league in 2006 and 2007.
The twin blackouts were not the only thing to go wrong.
The Galaxy suffered a slight setback even before the game kicked off when starting left back Todd Dunivant had to be omitted from the lineup because of an undetermined illness.
Dunivant had started feeling ill Thursday and Coach Bruce Arena opted to start DeLaGarza in his place.
The rookie from Maryland last started a game on Oct. 2.
At the final whistle, the Galaxy players raised their fists in the air in triumph or sank to their knees in exhaustion.
The team that finished tied for last place in MLS last season has achieved a remarkable turnaround.
Only one hurdle remains between it and a third league championship, but after Friday night, anything is possible.
* Galaxy 2, Houston 0 (OT)
* Today: Real Salt Lake at Chicago, 5 p.m. PST
* Nov. 22: at Seattle, 5:30 p.m.