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Aug 1, 2007

FC Dallas and Galaxy indulge in goal-scoring fest

So now we know: Even when David Beckham isn't around, this new universe in which the L.A. Galaxy dwell is a wondrous place where bizarre things can and do happen.

Case in point: The Galaxy showed up at Pizza Hut Park in suburban Dallas on Tuesday for a SuperLiga clash and an indoor soccer game broke out. Or so it seems, judging by the oh-so-rare accumulation of 11 goals.

The Galaxy advanced in an outlandish 6-5 affair, a contest that surely left TV announcers hoarse, fans breathless and critics of an ostensibly low-scoring sport bummed and confused.

Players can enjoy long, wonderful and prosperous careers and never get near an 11-goal match, especially one with something meaningful at stake. Tuesday's winner was destined to book passage into the SuperLiga semifinals.

Landon Donovan thought about it for a couple of seconds after the match, and then concluded that he had never taken part in a match with so much (largely unobstructed) offense.

"It was like a training session out there," Donovan said, "one of those six-on-six sessions on a small field where you just go back and forth scoring."

How rare is the 11-goal contest? In about 2,000 matches of regular-season MLS soccer over the past 12 years, it has happened just once. The Galaxy defeated Colorado by a 7-4 margin in 1998.

Another telling statistic: The Galaxy took eight shots Tuesday, producing results on six of them. That's a mystifying strike rate. FC Dallas hit 25 shots toward the target, claiming goals on one too few.

Actually, FC Dallas came up two goals short. Another odd aspect of the evening was the feeling that the crowd, so much of which had purchased tickets to see Beckham, was likely unaware of the steep angle on Dallas' uphill climb. Because a tie would see the Galaxy safely through the semifinals, the home side's stab at a breathtaking rally actually needed to end with Dallas ahead, not just equal, on the scoreboard.

Even the manner in which it all unfolded was peculiar, as the visiting Galaxy held a shocking 4-0 lead within the first 18 minutes. From Alan Gordon's successful third-minute header off a corner kick, the pattern looked like this: The Galaxy attack. The Galaxy score. Repeat.

L.A. manager Frank Yallop struggled to describe how he felt about it all. He was quite pleased to be advancing in the tourney, of course, but to witness a four-goal lead nearly vanish and to see his defense allow five was certainly disquieting. It squeezed some of the jubilation out of the accomplishment.

He did excuse the Galaxy's porous defending somewhat with this caveat: It's so rare that any team, much less a visitor, builds an early four-goal margin. He couldn't blame his men for not knowing exactly how to deal with it. Keep pressing the attack? Bunker and defend? Pinch themselves to see if they are dreaming?

"When that happens in a game, you just don't know what to do," Yallop said. "Dallas was trying to get people forward and did a great job of getting back into the game. Until we got that sixth one, I was not relaxed."

Get that: until L.A. got the "sixth one." How many times have we heard that?

Recalling the details of such a wild evening was almost as difficult for the Galaxy manager as devising explanations for his team's defense. Yallop sat next to Gordon in the postgame news conference. As he talked about the match, he glanced over at the big Galaxy striker.

"Alan got two and ... it was two, wasn't it, Alan? There were so many goals in that game, it was hard to keep up."

For the record, Gordon did have two. So did FC Dallas' Arturo Alvarez, who stood out as the side's best player in the tournament.

Donovan struck on a signature breakaway, speeding and weaving past a static Dallas back line, one understandably taxed by hurrying forward at every opportunity after falling behind so staggeringly. That was No. 5 for Los Angeles. Even Carlos Pavon, who has yet to adjust to the speed of the game here, scored his first goal in a Galaxy jersey, capping off the Galaxy's scoring in the 96th minute.

Sorting out the details wasn't quite as important for the other team. Rather, sorting out the carnage of a wasted opportunity was on the minds of FC Dallas players and management. Dallas had three home matches in SuperLiga. Manager Steve Morrow thought his team outplayed Pachuca and Chivas, but FC Dallas managed only 1-1 draws with both Mexican opponents.

Still, the chance to advance was there against a Galaxy team minus Beckham, Cobi Jones and Kyle Martino, and a team that has looked rather meek on the road this year. Morrow described himself as bitterly disappointed and lamented his team's "shameful" start to the match.

There is one final, aberrant twist to it all. Yes, the Galaxy do advance in what will probably be the club's only opportunity at a title this year. Yallop's men have already been thrown overboard in the U.S. Open Cup and even GM Alexi Lalas is acknowledging the difficult odds of reaching the MLS playoffs.

(As the Galaxy held a 4-1 halftime advantage Tuesday, Lalas told reporters that he would "trade all four goals for the points" FC Dallas now owns in the MLS regular-season standings.)

So while a trip to the SuperLiga semifinals is something of a blessing, it also adds to the Galaxy's looming curse: the coming gantlet just became harder, as Yallop's men added at least one more contest and possibly another cross-country trip to a pileup of matches that's jam-packed already.

Galaxy players know the dizzying odyssey ahead just got more taxing.

"But let's be honest," L.A. goalkeeper Joe Cannon said. "When you have a chance to play in the semifinals of a big tournament like SuperLiga, you have to take advantage."

Steve Davis is a Dallas-based freelance writer who covers MLS for ESPNsoccernet. He can be reached at BigTexSoccer@yahoo.com.