When the Galaxy played San Jose two weeks ago, the team was angered by calls it felt should have been made but weren't.
Sunday, the Galaxy was crying foul over a call it thought shouldn't have been made but was.
An infraction whistled on Galaxy midfielder Marcelo Sarvas four minutes into stoppage time led to Victor Bernardez's free-kick goal, giving the Earthquakes a 1-0 victory in the first match of the two-leg Western Conference semifinals at the Home Depot Center. Under Major League Soccer rules the home-and-away playoff series will be decided on total goals, meaning the Galaxy must win Wednesday's rematch in Silicon Valley by at least two scores to avoid elimination.
But Galaxy Coach Bruce Arena wasn't interested in math after Sunday's match. He was looking for justice.
"No foul," he said of the call against Sarvas. "If that's a foul in this game then there's 100 fouls."
That was roughly the number the Galaxy felt laissez-faire referee Jair Marrufo should have called during its physical 2-2 tie with San Jose in the regular season. So the Galaxy employed a little gamesmanship in the run-up to Sunday's playoff match, lavishly heaping praise on referee Ricardo Salazar.
And for 90 minutes Salazar kept the game from deteriorating into another slugfest. But with just seconds left in stoppage time Salazar — who called a tight game all night — called Sarvas for reaching around San Jose's Simon Dawkins.
"It might have been a soft call," Galaxy defender Omar Gonzalez said.
"I think if you ask Ricardo again he'd probably say that he shouldn't have called it," Galaxy captain Landon Donovan added.
Yet all that became moot when Bernardez, after a long run at the ball, whistled a free kick from about 35 yards under the Galaxy's defensive wall and through keeper Josh Saunders.
"My play was not acceptable," said Saunders, who appeared to have the shot stopped only to see the ball trickle behind him and over the goal line. "I'll take the blame for not covering the ball."
The blame may not have been all his, though. Gonzalez said the low shot was redirected on its way toward the goal, creating an unusual spin that made it difficult to handle.
"It might have deflected off me and I think that changed its course a little bit," he said.
But then the Galaxy should never have been in a position where a late goal — no matter how bizarre — could cost it the game. The defending MLS champs dominated possession all night yet didn't get a shot on goal until the 66th minute. Six minutes later Robbie Keane ended a long run up the center of the field with a low shot that San Jose keeper Jon Busch stopped, and with four minutes left in regulation Donovan set up a wide-open Keane again at the end of the 18-yard box only for Keane's shot to thud off the crossbar.
"We didn't finish off plays technically in and around the penalty area," said Arena, who confronted Salazar and his crew at midfield after the match. "It cost us the game. We were in position to get a goal or two for sure and failed to execute the last pass or shot."
And that leaves the Galaxy, which has overcome obstacles all season long, with one more challenge to conquer Wednesday in tiny Buck Shaw Stadium in Santa Clara, where the Earthquakes are unbeaten in 15 matches this season.
"It's a chance to show some character. And we've done it before," Keane said.