Mexico

In a Match Featuring American Stars, Mexico's Giovani Dos Santos Shines the Brightest

Giovani Dos Santos scored the game-winning goal and the LA Galaxy defeated the Colorado Rapids 1-0 in the first leg of the MLS Western Conference Semifinals at StubHub Center on Sunday Afternoon.

It was a match that featured some of the greatest players in American soccer history, so it was only fitting that Mexican international, Giovani Dos Santos stole the spotlight.

Dos Santos outshined USMNT legends Landon Donovan, Tim Howard, and Jermaine Jones as the Mexican striker scored the game-winning goal in the LA Galaxy's 1-0 victory over the Colorado Rapids in the first leg of the MLS Western Conference Semifinals at StubHub Center on Sunday afternoon.

Dos Santos bounced a header off Colorado defender Axel Sjoberg that beat Howard in the 58th minute on a day that the keeper was virtually impenetrable in net all day long.

"It was very difficult to score in them," Dos Santos said. "They are the best defensive team in the league. We created a lot of chances, but they made the stops. At the end of the day, I think we deserved the win."

Howard was armed with turrets, walls, and Watts (Jared) as he built a fortress between the pipes throughout the duration of the game. In the final box score, Howard was only credited with three saves, but he made two sensational stops in the first forty-five that were taken off the books due to fouls on the play.

"Tim had a really good game," said Galaxy forward Alan Gordon. "There were several chances that he just got a hand or fingertip on that don't show up in the stats. They don't give up, and that's why they've given up the least amount of goals in the league this season."

Gordon thought he put the LA Galaxy on the scoreboard in the 13th minute when he headed a shot past Howard, but the official whistled for a foul away from the play, taking away the team's advantage, and negating the goal.

"It's pretty obvious that should be advantage," Gordon said of his disallowed goal. "We had a couple of those today. If we keep doing that, then we're going to get goals. It didn't count today, but if we keep doing those things maybe we'll got one next week."

After a scoreless first half in which the Rapids flexed their tout defensive muscles, Colorado subbed in USMNT midfielder Jermaine Jones to start the second half.

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"They were more intense once he came onto the pitch," said Galaxy midfielder Sebastian Lletget. "He was quick on the ball and he created a lot of chances for them."

Jones had missed most of the last four months with a knee injury and took the field for his first playoff action since he last left the StubHub center pitch in the 2014 MLS Cup Final with the New England Revolution.

The LA Galaxy would ultimately go on to win that match 2-1, in extra time, leaving a sour taste in Jones mouth as the home team hoisted their fifth MLS Cup in franchise history.

Jones was transferred to the Rapids at the beginning of the 2016 season and was an integral part of changing the culture in Colorado. His impact on the pitch was immediately felt as he opened up the midfield and blasted what was nearly a game-tying shot in the waning moments that Galaxy goalkeeper Brian Rowe was able to rush in and save at the last minute.

Another UMSNT star, Gyasi Zardes, did not appear in the game as he is still recovering from a foot injury. Robbie Keane and Steven Gerrard were dressed for the game, but neither were in the starting XI. Keane, was substituted for the final eight minutes of the match.

In Keane's stead, defender Jelle Van Damme filled in as captain and represented the armband with pride and vigilance as his determined effort set up Dos Santos for the game's only goal.

"It's nice to wear the armband," Van Damme said of being the captain. "Sometimes you need a little luck and I tried something and it worked out today."

Van Damme blasted a shot that ricocheted to the left side of the net. The Belgian defender chased down the rebound, nutmegged midfielder Michael Azira and then delivered the ball on a dime to Dos Santos whose down-driving header deflected into the net for the game-winner.

"That was a great play by Jelle," said Dos Santos after the match. "He crossed to me and I just tried to put my head on it and thankfully it went in."

The LA Galaxy will take a one-goal lead on aggregate into the second leg of the semifinals next Sunday in Denver. The Rapids are undefeated this season at Dick's Sporting Goods Stadium, but they have never eliminated the LA Galaxy from the MLS Cup Playoffs before.

"We're going back home to place we've been very good this year," said Colorado manager Pablo Mastroeni. "I like our chances of getting a goal at altitude, where teams struggle. Hopefully it's 30 degrees and we put on a show for our fans."

By virtue of their clean sheet, the Galaxy will also have a tremendous advantage if they are able to score a goal in the Mile High City as they will hold the tiebreaker in away goals if the aggregate score ends in a draw.

"We're happy with the first half of this leg. We did our part and now the pressure switches to them," said Donovan as he looked ahead to the second leg. "They need to find a way to get a goal, if not, zero-zero gets us through. They're going to have to be pretty aggressive."

Players of the Game:

Giovani Dos Santos: Game-winning Goal.
Tim Howard: Three saves.
Jelle Van Damme: Game-winning assist. 

Three Takeaways:

1. The Energizer Bunny: In addition to being the all-time MLS postseason leader in goals (25) and assists (15), Landon Donovan has also posted the most playoff minutes on the pitch with 3,855. That's more minutes than the entire team (starting XI) have combined (2,010).

2. Goal Busters! Tim Howard was so impressive in between the pipes on Sunday that he caught the attention of Saturday Night Live cast member and star of the newest Ghostbusters remake, Leslie Jones.

3. Return of the King: As 2014 MVP Robbie Keane continues to recover from injury, he gets closer and closer to returning to the starting XI. There's six days rest before leg two, leaving plenty of time for Keane to get fit and return to the lineup on Sunday.

Up Next:

LA Galaxy: The Galaxy will head to the Mile High State with a one-goal lead where the Rapids are undefeated at Dick's Sporting Goods Park this season. 

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