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Thursday, August 30, 2007

SuperLiga Final: LA Galaxy 1 x Pachuca 1 AET (3 to 4 for Pachuca)

At the Home Depot Center, with only 12,500 in attendance (due to factors related to stadium configuration with the University who shares the field, and not a lack of ticket demand according to Telefutura), the million dollar final took place. The game was even for the first twenty minutes. David Beckham set up Landon Donovan with a perfect ball, but Donovan was not able to head it properly. It might have changed the tenor of this game.

In the span of two minutes, this game was altered in a blatant fashion. In the 28th minute, Pachuca executed a perfect triangle. When Cristian Gimenez passed the ball in front of the goal mouth, incredibly, Peter Vagenas of the Galaxy slotted it into his own goal. He could have been wearing the black shirt of Pachuca, because their own striker could not have finished the play any better. Defensive errors and lapses have been a recurring theme for the Galaxy this season. They leak in goals like a bad roof. At this level, own goals, such as the manner of this one by an experienced player (Vagenas) are difficult to fathom.

Injuries to Beckham and Salazar

Two minutes later, David Beckham and Fernando Salazar collided near the Pachuca penalty area. It was a free ball, there was no foul, but Beckham came in sideways and went down immediately on the ground. In very good fair play fashion, Pachuca kicked the ball into touch. Salazar was also injured and forced to leave the game. Beckham appeared in significant pain, and signaled that he could not continue. Telefutura indicated that he injured his right knee, and that a scan would take place at the stadium, or at another facility nearby. (It will take place on Thursday).

Were it not for several fine saves by Joe Cannon, along with a failure to convert other opportunities by Pachuca, the scoreline would have been inflated. The half ended, 0 x 1 for Pachuca.

In the 67th minute, Landon Donovan almost atoned for his earlier error. Chris Klein crossed a ball right to his head, and only a reflexive save by Miguel Calero kept the sphere out of the Pachuca goal. The Galaxy, to their credit, kept pushing forward for the equalizer. Five minutes later, Calero made another excellent save on Alan Gordon. In the 86th minute, Donovan once again, on a left-footed shot about six meters from the goal, was saved by Calero.

But deep into injury time, the hard work of the Galaxy finally paid dividends. Figuratively, and perhaps (which was not known at the time), literally. Chris Klein brought the pro-Pachuca crowd to silence, as the LA faithful finally had something to cheer. After a headed ball first struck the crossbar by Mike Randolph, the resulting carom in the penalty area arrived at Chris Klein. He then executed a perfect bicycle kick with his right foot past a defender and Miguel Calero. 1 x 1, and the game was whistled over. Next came thirty minutes of extra time.

Extra Time

David Beckham returned to the bench, dressed in a suit, to cheer on his mates. In my estimation, he had some type of device to stabilize his right leg. I state this because of the way he was sitting. His right leg was positioned straight forward. It did not bend at the knee in the first television image, although you could not see the apparatus and/or bandaging. Later, he stood up to complain with one of the assistant referees. The extent of the injury was not discussed by game commentators Pablo Ramirez or Jesus Brancamontes of Telefutura. (During the penalty kick shoot-out, Beckham did stand arm and arm with his teammates).

In the 94th minute. Pachuca had an excellent chance, but the ball sailed wide of the goal. Pachucha, who minutes before were preparing to celebrate the million dollar victory, looked tense and nervous in the first few minutes of extra time. The energy and psychological balance had shifted to the Galaxy. The first extra period ended still drawn, 1 x 1.

The second extra period began as the crowd began to chant "Galaxy Galaxy" to drown out the Mexican supporters. In the 113th minute, Edson Buddle had a one on one breakaway with Calero, but once again, the Colombian keeper saved the day for Pachuca. Extra time ended, and the dreaded penalty kicks would decide the winner of the title, along with the million dollar prize purse.

Penalty kick shoot-out

The respective goalkeepers were Joe Cannon for LA, and Miguel Angel Calero for Pachuca, who went through this two weeks ago in the semi-final at Houston.

Round 1

Pachuca: Rafael Lugo Marquez converted.
LA: Peter Vagenas was saved by Calero.

Round 2

Pachuca: Luis Gabriel Rey converted.
LA: Cobi Jones converted.

Round 3

Pachuca: Gabriel Caballero was saved by Cannon.
LA: Chris Klein converted.

Round 4

Pachuca: Julio Manzur converted.
LA: Edson Buddle converted.

Round 5

Pachuca: Marvin Cabrera hit the crossbar.
LA: Landon Donovan was saved by Calero.

Round 6

Pachuca: Carlos Rodriguez converted.
LA: Abel Xavier sailed over the goal.

Pachuca wins the shootout, 3 to 4, to capture the SuperLiga championship.

Closing Thoughts

For me, Miguel Angel Calero was the Man of the Match. Both teams had many goal scoring opportunities (15 to 20), but all that resulted after 120 minutes were the amateurish own goal by LA (Vagenas), and the injury time masterpiece by Chris Klein. No doubt, Coach Frank Yallop will rue the early loss of David Beckham, along with some missed opportunities. But in all frankness, even against a superior opponent, LA could have won this game tonight. Landon Donovan failed to convert the fifth round penalty that would have ended the game. But as in all shoot-outs, one player should not be faulted. LA did not finish their opportunities in the first 120 minutes.

Pachuca, who are the reigning Mexican champions, CONCACAF club champions, and Copa Sudamericana champions, added another honor to their trophy case. Not to mention one million dollars for the club coffers. Well done, Pachuca. MLS also represented itself with distinction in this inaugural event. Three teams (DC United, Houston Dynamo, and the Galaxy) made the final four.

For video highlights at the official SuperLiga site, please click here.

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