Gerrard and Galaxy Start Slow, Bury San Jose 5-2 Anyway
Steven Gerrard's debut was a script written in Hollywood, replete with occasional suspensions of disbelief from the referees and early obstacles that the story's hero inevitably overcame.
While an early Quincy Amarikwa brace saw the visitors take a stunning 2-0 lead, a Robbie Keane hat-trick with Gerrard and Sebastian Lletget tallying in supporting roles was more than enough to see the LA Galaxy defeat the San Jose Earthquakes 5-2 and move into first place in MLS's brutal Western Conference.
Both lineups were severely limited by the Gold Cup, taking away Quakes talisman Chris Wondolowski and Galaxy studs Gyasi Zardes and Omar Gonzalez amongst others on both sides. As such, Bruce Arena sent out his side with 5 midfielders, all centrally-trained, with the Liverpool LegendTM playing in the hole as a number 10 under lone striker Keane. Dominic Kinnear responded with his familiar 4-1-4-1 look, with two creative midfielders in Tommy Thompson and Matias Perez-Garcia underneath new aquisition Amarikwa.
The San Jose new boy put the Galaxy rear-guard on notice straight away, troubling them in the first minute and getting in behind in the 12th only to miss a one-on-one chance against the keeper. Sanna Nyassi bombed down his flank and did a creditable job feeding Amarikwa after winning balls on the press. Keane, going the other way, tried several times to combine with Gerrard but the two never looked on the same page for the opening half hour.
No surprise, then, that when the goal came, it was Nyassi who hit a delicious early cross to hit Amarikwa in stride for a first time finish hard and low past backup Galaxy keeper Brian Rowe in the 22nd minute. Nyassi would win another loose ball just two minutes later only to be stonewalled by Leonardo, earning a set piece in a dangerous spot, which was consequently tipped out for a corner. Pérez-Garcia pumped that one into the box, deflected off of Clarence Goodson, falling ever-so-delicately to the feet of Amarikwa for an emphatic, simple finish and a shocking 2-0 lead.
With requisite drama built up, the plot twisted the other way just three minutes later when tiny Tommy Thompson was whistled for a feather-soft penalty for going into an aerial challenge with Gerrard with his arm raised. The Republic of Ireland captain stepped up to the spot and dispatched it without so much as a penumbra of doubt, reasserting the home side's upper hand in the matchup despite still being down 2-1.
Although San Jose would manage a few creditable forays forward in the interim, the second goal came in the 37th minute with an air of inevitability about it. Gerrard, seemingly envigorated after a lackluster opening half hour, galloped forward on the break, squared a mediocre ball to Keane, and put himself in a position to receive a return at the far post. Goodson got a toe on the cross but not enough to put the debutant off, as Gerrard tucked a side-footed volley home for his first MLS goal and the game's equalizer.
The rest of the half was uneventful in terms of offense, with both sides riding swells forward that never ultimately broke near goal. What was eventful, however, was a two-footed follow through by Gerrard on Quakes hard man Victor Bernardez in the 40th minute, studs up, that in many official's books would've signalled the end of his night but on this occasion merited not even a booking.
While the Quakes appeared to have a punchers chance in the first half, the second period opened with overwhelming pressure from the hosts, with the attacks coming thick and fast. In the 48th minute Lletget put in a troubling cross that led to a Husidic header that Bingham only barely managed to push away. In the 51st Keane and Gerrard get on the break together but Keane's feed was only barely cut out. In the 53rd, Keane found Lletget at the far post for a volley that was hammered off the crossbar, creating a feeling of a siege mentality.
The deadlock would be broken painfully in the 64th minute, after Robbie Rodgers took a dive at the touch line and Gerrard put in the resulting set piece hard and low for Keane to flip in from point blank range in front of a trailing Alashe. Having lost a grip on the share of the points, the Quakes visibly deflated, frustrated yet further with every subsequent refereeing indignity, with substitutes Mark Sherrod and Leandro Barrera unable to change the fundamental dynamic of the game.
Any brief moments of inspiration they had left in them vacated entirely when, in the 80th minute, David Bingham lost his footing and clipped Husidic in the box trying to cut out the danger. While the ball ran onto the feet of Gerrard, who gamely passed it into the back of the net, the referee refused the advantage and whistled for a penalty, sparing Bingham red. Keane took a heavy hesitation step and dispatched the spot-kick, giving his team a 4-2 lead.
Bruce Arena honored the dynamic debutant in the 88th minute, pulling him off for Edson Buddle and allowing the home crowd to give him a standing ovation for his efforts on the night. He would do the same three minutes later for Lletget immediately after the San Franciscan nodded in the coup de grace in stoppage time as the Quakes waited for the referee's merciful whistle.