When David Beckham was flying high with Manchester United, the phrase “Bend it like Beckham” became so popular that it was used as a title for a British film that enjoyed success, boosted by its title and a non-speaking appearance by the soccer superstar late in the action.
Beckham has carried the set piece to the same kind of advanced art as Sir Isaac Newton did science and Rembrandt did painting. It was on display Sunday night before a throng of 27,000 at Home Depot Center in Carson, California as he boosted the Los Angeles Galaxy to a 2-1 win over the Seattle Sounders and a 3-1 edge in aggregate compilation.
The Galaxy under legendary mentor Bruce Arena one week earlier had won a 1-0 defensive struggle in Seattle against the Sounders, thereby securing a one goal advantage in the Western Conference MLS semifinal encounter going into Sunday’s rematch. It would therefore require a two goal margin for the Sounders to win and a one score advantage to force overtime action.
Anyone thinking that the Galaxy would therefore play it safe and move into a conservative mode from the beginning of play was proven wrong when the locals, now aided by home pitch advantage, began pressing the action from the outset.
The difference maker was veteran international star Beckham, who at one point was feared lost for the entire season after sustaining an Achilles tendon injury. For a time the only sports action that fans would see involving Beckham was viewing him at courtside of Los Angeles Lakers NBA games, but behind the scenes the pride and determined resolve were at work.
The result was seen Sunday night as Beckham recovered and was back to join U.S. World Cup performers Edson Buddle and Landon Donovan down the stretch and into the all-important playoff action. Beckham’s set piece mastery was so acknowledged that he replaced a master in that same art in Donovan, who had replaced him in that key area when he was out of action.
The revealing key to first half activity was the corner kick statistic of 4-0 favoring the home team. Beckham’s bending efforts from the corner generated a score on one of those opportunities and another on a free kick. In the process the Galaxy’s ticket to host the Western Conference final was punched.
The first score of the march to the ultimate 3-1 L.A. aggregate triumph came after Beckham delivered a corner kick into the box. Buddle, the MLS’s second leading scorer with 17 tallies in the regular season, generated a header from eight yards out that snuck past Sounders goalkeeper Kasey Keller and into the net.
The same combination of a niftily placed Beckham effort and a header into the net occurred shortly thereafter in the 27th minute. This time Beckham sent a free kick into the box. Omar Gonzalez positioned himself for a header that snuck past a diving Keller for the second and final L.A. score of the evening.
Their backs against the wall with a 2-0 halftime score and 3-0 aggregate bulge confronting them, Sounders Coach Sigi Schmid knew that a shakeup was mandatory with the emphasis on launching an attack mode. When the second half began Uruguayan World Cup player Alvaro Fernandez was inserted at midfield. Eventually Nate Jaqua and Mike Fucito, both known for their aggressive, attacking play, would also be utilized.
There was a distinct difference between first and second half play as the Sounders went on the attack while the Galaxy defended, knowing that time and goal advantages were on their side. The Seattle effort generated a tally to break a scoring drought that extended to last season’s playoffs, but it proved to be too little too late.
Midfielder Steve Zakuani, the team’s leading scorer during the regular season with 10 goals, achieved the breakthrough in the 86th minute. The goal was realized after Jaqua cut the ball between two Galaxy defenders in the box and Zakuani blasted a left-footed shot past goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts. Hence Zakuani enters the history books as the first player to score a post-season goal for the Sounders in the team’s two years of existence.
There were several notable second half scoring efforts, with one by Zakuani, another by Fredy Montero, along with others by Ozzie Alonso, Jaqua and Fucito, but some shots missed the target while Jamaican veteran Ricketts, who was named the league’s leading goalkeeper for 2010, remained vigilant and held his ground, making needed saves and staying in the way, forcing attackers to work over or around him.
Ricketts recorded three saves on the night while Keller had two.
The Sounders ended the evening with a 13-9 advantage on shots. The teams were even at 4-4 on goal and 5-5 on corner kicks.
Sounders defender Jeff Parke, who sustained an ankle sprain in last week’s match, was replaced by fellow veteran and former Galaxy star Tyrone Marshall, a Jamaican National Team player, who came close to generating a scoring assist in second half action.
By virtue of its triumph, Los Angeles will host FC Dallas in the Western Conference Championship Sunday, November 14 at 6 p.m. PT.
The Eastern Conference finale finds Colorado entertaining San Jose Saturday, November 13 at 6:30 p.m. PT.
The winners will meet in the MLS Cup 2010 November 21 in Toronto.