A halftime skirmish in the Home Depot Center tunnel leading to the teams' locker rooms involving the Galaxy's Carlos Ruiz and San Jose Earthquake defender Troy Dayak seemed to ignite Ruiz and the Galaxy on Saturday night.
A dreary and scoreless first half was followed by two quick Galaxy scores as the defending Major League Soccer champions, who finished in fourth place this season, took Game 1 of the Western Conference first-round, aggregate-goals series, 2-0, on goals by Sasha Victorine and Ruiz before a disappointing crowd of 20,201. (The Galaxy averaged a league-best 21,983 during the regular season.)
The first-place Earthquakes, who have scored only one goal in their last 602 minutes, including an exhibition match against Chivas of Guadalajara, must beat the Galaxy by at least two goals next Sunday in San Jose to force a golden-goal series tiebreaker. Otherwise, the Galaxy will advance to the one-game conference final at either Kansas City or Colorado.
Ruiz would not comment on the scuffle, which, witnesses said, ended with Ruiz holding the back of his head and leaning on a railing gathering himself. Dayak and the Earthquakes left before he could be reached for comment.
The league is aware of the incident and is reviewing it.
Victorine, who helped pull the players apart, said he did not see the start of the altercation, but did speak to Ruiz.
"I told him that we needed him back mentally in the game, that the best way to get back was to find the back of the net," Victorine said. "And when he did, I just said, 'That's character right there.' "
And Ruiz let Dayak know about it, celebrating in his face before taking his party to the sideline to share it with the fans.
"My job is to score goals," Ruiz said. "And when I do, I have to celebrate accordingly."
Ruiz's goal in the 62nd minute was set up by a long ball from defender Hong Myung-Bo, a pass which found Ruiz in the upper right corner of the 18-yard box.
Dribbling toward the center, where he was met by Earthquake defenders Todd Dunivant and Jeff Agoos, Ruiz spun Dunivant, who fell to the grass, before unleashing a blistering left-footed shot from 14 yards that easily beat Earthquake goalkeeper Pat Onstad.
Ruiz's goal, his 16th of the season, gave the Galaxy a 2-0 lead and came only three minutes after Victorine had broken the deadlock, marking the shortest interval between goals in club playoff history.
A seemingly harmless cross-pass from rookie midfielder Arturo Torres got things going.
Torres, who received the ball from Peter Vagenas, sent it toward the center of the box. It bounced off the head of rookie Dunivant, and to the far post, where Victorine broke free of defender Chris Roner to slide feet-first and get just enough of it to push it past Onstad.
NO. 1 SAN JOSE vs.
NO. 4 GALAXY
* Game 1: at Home Depot Center, Galaxy 2, San Jose 0.
* Game 2: Nov. 9 at Spartan Stadium in San Jose, 6 p.m.
* TV -- Fox Sports World. Radio -- KXMX (1190), KTNQ (1020, Spanish), Radio Korea (1230, Korean).