The Galaxy didn’t so much lose Sunday as they were beaten.
Physically, mentally and emotionally, the Galaxy’s season seemed to come to an end before their playoff series with the Colorado Rapids did. And fittingly it was a series that ended in the most frustrating way possible, with the Rapids winning Sunday’s game, 1-0, then taking the series on penalty kicks when the Galaxy missed three of their four tries.
Combined, the two results send Colorado on to the MLS Western Conference finals while the Galaxy are left to contemplate an uncertain future.
“Penalties are a lottery,” said Robbie Keane, the Galaxy’s fifth shooter, who never got to the penalty spot. “We’ve seen over the years it doesn’t matter how good you are, how good of a player you are, how good of a team you are. Once it comes to penalties it’s different.”
Added Landon Donovan: “PKs are always hard to watch. And it’s a hard way to lose.”
However, the Galaxy have only themselves to blame for the fact that their season came down to that. After winning the opening game of the two-leg playoff, 1-0, and with aggregate goals determining the winner, they needed only a tie Sunday to advance.
But in 120 minutes, including a 30-minute overtime, they managed just one shot on goal. So when the Rapids countered with a first-half strike from Shkelzen Gashi, a left-footed shot from 40 yards that knuckled off the left goalpost and ricocheted into the net, it allowed Colorado to hold serve and force extra time, then penalty kicks.
It was, Donovan said, “probably a one-in-a-hundred-thousand-type of shot.”
Added Jelle Van Damme: “Out of the blue. Out of nowhere.”
It left the Galaxy with a huge hill to climb against a team that hadn’t lost at home, allowing just seven goals in 18 games in its mile-high stadium this season. And things quickly went downhill from there.
Donovan had to come out at halftime with a hamstring strain. Van Damme, the team’s hulking center back, twisted a knee late in the second half and had to be helped off the field before returning. And Keane, a second-half sub, pulled a groin early in overtime yet had to stay on because the Galaxy had no substitutions left.
So they limped into the shootout, with Steven Gerrard — going first in place of Keane — burying his attempt. The Galaxy wouldn’t find the back of the net again, however, with Giovani dos Santos air-mailing his shot over the crossbar before Colorado keeper Tim Howard stopped consecutive shots by Ashley Cole and Jeff Larentowicz.
For his part, Galaxy keeper Brian Rowe barely got a hand on penalty shots from the Rapids’ trio of Kevin Doyle, Sebastian Le Toux and Marco Pappa, sending the Rapids, a last-place team a year ago, off to the conference finals for the first time since 2010.
Van Damme, meanwhile, hobbled off in tears.
“It’s hard to accept,” he said. “I wanted to go all the way and it ends here. I will need a few more days to accept it and to move on.”
His team will need to find a way to move on as well. Van Damme is signed for next season but Donovan and Keane, whose contracts are up, may have played their final game for the team. Ditto Gerrard, who finished a frustrating and injury-riddled season with a strong game Sunday.
“I’ll be playing next year. Somewhere,” Keane said. “Whether it’s here or somewhere else, I’ll 100% be playing.”
“This is not the time to talk about that,” he said softly.
“It was a tough way to lose. That’s all there is to it.”