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Galaxy defense stands up to Earthquakes to advance in MLS playoffs

L.A. refuses to give in to San Jose's vaunted offense for a 3-1 playoff victory. L.A. will now face either Salt Lake City or Seattle in the Western Conference finals beginning Sunday at home.

November 08, 2012|By Kevin Baxter

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Galaxy defender Todd Dunivant remembers one emotion washing over him Wednesday night when the clock finally ran out on a 3-1 playoff victory over the San Jose Earthquakes.

"Relief," he said with a tired smile.

Teammate Omar Gonzalez was a bit more effusive.

"It just felt great to hear that whistle blow," he said "and to finally be over with those guys."

By dispatching the Quakes on aggregate goals, 3-2, in a two-game playoff series, the Galaxy now gets to move on to play some other guys -- either Real Salt Lake or Seattle -- in the Western Conference finals beginning Sunday at the Home Depot Center. Those teams play the final game of their Major League Soccer playoff series Thursday in Utah.

In the meantime, the Galaxy will try to catch its breath. Because during the final 13 minutes of its game with San Jose it's unlikely anyone on its sideline bothered to exhale.

With reason, given that San Jose put together the best record in the league this season thanks in large part to an offense that never quit. The Quakes scored 30% of their goals in the final 15 minutes of games -- including a league-record nine in stoppage time.

Twice in the regular season the Galaxy entered the final 20 minutes of games leading San Jose, only to give up late goals, losing once and settling for a draw the other time.

So both teams appeared to be reading from a familiar script when San Jose's Alan Gordon scored in the 82nd minute Wednesday, cutting the Galaxy lead in the game to two goals and its lead in the playoff series to one.

Under MLS rules, the winners of the conference semifinals are determined by total goals, meaning the Quakes needed just one more goal in regulation play or during five minutes of stoppage time to send the series into overtime.

This time, however, the Galaxy refused to give in, utilizing a stout and physical defensive effort led by Gonzalez and his fellow center back, rookie Tommy Meyer, who looked both confident and composed in his best game of the season.

"We learned from our mistakes," Dunivant said. "We were smarter. Closing out the game was a lot better, a lot more professional."

Added Coach Bruce Arena: "I was confident we could hold them off."

They did, giving up just one shot after Gordon's goal. And though that chance was a good one, Ike Opara's attempt two minutes into stoppage time missed badly. That allowed two first-half goals from Robbie Keane and another by Mike Magee –- his fifth in his last seven postseason games –- to stand up, giving the Galaxy the series.

It also made the Galaxy just the third team in 10 seasons to win a conference semifinal after losing the first game at home. The next series could be tougher, though, since the Galaxy lost twice in three regular-season games to both Seattle and Real Salt Lake.

"Everyone did a really good job of concentrating at the end," Dunivant said. "That's what it's all about. It's concentrating on every single play. It's not letting your guard down. The second you let your guard down is when they capitalize and punish you.

"We accomplished a really big thing. It was awesome."

kevin.baxter@latimes.com

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