Here's one indication how far the Galaxy has fallen since winning the Major League Soccer Cup six months ago: Last year it led the league with 17 shutouts en route to the title. Wednesday it couldn't protect a two-goal lead for 18 minutes, losing to the San Jose Earthquakes, 3-2, at the Home Depot Center.
The game-winner came four minutes into stoppage time when second-half substitute Alan Gordon cut in front of Galaxy defenders A.J. DeLaGarza and Sean Franklin and headed a bouncing pass over keeper Brian Perk.
That wiped out what, for most of the night, had been a solid effort by the Galaxy, which built just its fourth two-goal lead of the season on a first-half score from Hector Jimenez and a second-half strike from Mike Magee.
"There's no excuse for us to not at least get a point out of this game," said Galaxy Coach Bruce Arena, whose team has gone six games without a win, its longest drought since 2008. "That's disappointing because it was really a very good effort on our part. At 2-0 things looked real good."
The Magee goal that had the team looking good came shortly after Jimenez was shown a red card for submarining defender Steven Beitashour. That forced the Galaxy to finish the game short-handed, and though it dropped as many as eight players into the box, the Earthquakes never stopped coming.
San Jose got its first goal when Marvin Chavez's corner kick set up Steven Lenhart for a diving header in the 76th minute. But the Earthquakes needed a little help to get the equalizer six minutes later, with Khari Stephenson scoring on a penalty kick after the Galaxy's David Beckham was called for a hand ball.
Although Arena found no fault with the call, Beckham was livid afterward.
"Unfortunately, we had someone who controlled the game," he said of referee Jair Marrufo. "Every time we've had him he wants to be the star. And that's what happens when you have a referee who wants to be on 'SportsCenter.' "
But the Galaxy was solely to blame on the winning goal, which started with a turnover in its defensive end. Jason Hernandez then sent a cross deep into the box for the 6-foot-3 Gordon, — the tallest player on the Earthquake roster — who had no trouble keeping the ball away from the 5-8 DeLaGarza and the 5-9 Franklin to score.
"We can't lose the ball in our defensive half," Arena said. "We have to play the ball up the field. We have to pull in collectively as a group and defend with our 10 players and play the game out. Get the three points and go home."
Gordon's goal was the sixth San Jose has scored in the 88th minute or later this year — and five of those have either tied the game or put the Earthquakes in front. This one was even more noteworthy, since it not only pushed San Jose to the top of the Western Conference standings, but it came in the team's first game without striker Chris Wondolowski, who is tied for the league lead with 11 goals but could miss much of the next three weeks while he's with the U.S. national team.
The Galaxy were was also missing a couple of players — captain Landon Donovan and striker Robbie Keane — to international duty. And their absences created an opportunity for Jimenez, who scored his first career goal on his first MLS shot less than three minutes into Wednesday's game.