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Powerless Galaxy Falls

Sampson chooses to sit Ruiz and three other scorers early, and host Kansas City takes advantage, 1-0.

October 17, 2004|Grahame L. Jones | Times Staff Writer

In a game the Galaxy needed to win by two goals to secure Major League Soccer's Western Conference title, Coach Steve Sampson on Saturday night elected -- or was forced by circumstance -- to leave the team's most dangerous goal scorers on the bench.

And so, when Los Angeles lined up at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Mo., there was no Carlos Ruiz (11 goals), no Alejandro Moreno (six goals), no Joseph Ngwenya (four goals) and no Andres Herzog (four goals).

They represented 59% of the Galaxy's 42 goals this season.

But in the most important game of the year so far, they sat.

The result was almost predictable. The Galaxy was beaten, 1-0, by the Kansas City Wizards, finished second in the conference and will play the Colorado Rapids in the first round of the playoffs starting Friday night at Denver.

Kansas City (14-9-7), which beat the Galaxy twice and tied it twice in 2004, won the conference title and will play the defending MLS champion San Jose Earthquakes in the first round.

In part, Sampson's hands were tied.

"Carlos wasn't 100%," he said of Ruiz, the two-time MLS scoring champion who has been nursing a sore left hamstring but was well enough to play 80 minutes for Guatemala on Wednesday night. "He told me he wasn't 100% but said that if we needed him he would play."

The striker underwent therapy on his hamstring Friday and Saturday and the decision not to start him was made an hour before kickoff.

"I didn't want to take a risk," Sampson said. "We need him to be 100% by next weekend."

As it was, Ruiz was brought into the game in the 68th minute, the 60-goal scorer replacing recently acquired rookie Alan Gordon, who started as the team's lone striker and still is looking for his first MLS goal.

"What we needed in Alan was someone who could win balls in the air," Sampson said of his decision to start Gordon, who was the A-League's rookie of the year with the Portland Timbers until the Galaxy acquired him Aug. 31.

If Sampson was hoping to get to halftime at 0-0 and then planning on sending in his big guns, the ploy misfired. Josh Wolff, the livewire U.S. national team forward, gave Kansas City the only goal it would need when he scored his 10th of the season in the 23rd minute to the delight of the 20,435 at Arrowhead.

Sampson described the development as "unfortunate."

With prospects for a Galaxy goal, let alone a victory, looking bleak, Sampson sent Herzog to replace Cobi Jones in the 52nd minute. He said Jones had developed a heel problem and had asked to come off.

Eight minutes later, Ngwenya was sent into the match in place of Sasha Victorine, who excelled against Kansas City in a 1-1 tie two weeks ago.

Asked why neither Herzog nor Ngwenya had started, Sampson said both "did a great job coming off the bench" in a 2-0 win over Dallas on Oct. 9, adding that Ngwenya "hasn't scored since the Columbus match" Sept. 4.

As for Moreno, the game ended before Sampson looked his way.

The Galaxy finished the regular season with an 11-9-10 record, including 2-3-3 under Sampson after posting a 3-1-4 record under former coach Sigi Schmid.

The team has scored only seven goals in its last eight games.

Jones reported from Los Angeles.

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