Following a strong first half, D.C. United looked primed to pull off a surprising win over the LA Galaxy on the road. At halftime, the Black-and-Red looked composed and had created the most dangerous chances on the counter. Unfortunately, there was another half to play, and LA took advantage of nearly every big mistake United made en route to scoring four unanswered goals to win the match 4-1. Lamar Neagle scored early in his competitive United debut, but 2 goals from halftime sub Mike Magee, a header from unexpected starter Daniel Steres, and a Robbie Keane penalty sunk United.
Some major surprises came before kickoff. Neagle started up front instead of Fabian Espindola, with United citing a coach's decision and not injury. The club cited the same reason for Markus Halsti being left out of the gameday squad entirely. Meanwhile, LA was without starting center back Jelle Van Damme and also claimed to have switched formations to a 4231. Nonetheless, the Galaxy appeared to be in something extraordinarily close to their normal 442, only with Steven Gerrard dropping deeper than normal in an effort to draw United out.
The Black-and-Red got off to a dream start. Chris Rolfe anticipated a slow pass to Gerrard, who was totally unaware that Rolfe was arriving to pressure him. Rolfe poked the ball away from the former Liverpool star, and Neagle latched onto the loose ball. Storming forward, Neagle rasped a low shot past goalkeeper Dan Kennedy from 20 yards to put his new club up 1-0.
DCU didn't rest on their laurels. Patrick Nyarko had a shot blocked following a corner, and later Luciano Acosta stripped Ashley Cole before having a cross from in close blocked by Nigel De Jong. Nick DeLeon's 13th minute pass nearly put Neagle in for a second goal, but a bad first touch from the former Sounder spoiled the attack. Soon thereafter, Kennedy signaled to the bench that he needed to come off, with Brian Rowe subbing in as LA's 'keeper.
The Galaxy's first meaningful attack saw Keane take a theatrical fall in the box from minor contact from DeLeon, but referee Kevin Stott was not interested in his protests. This was followed by Steve Birnbaum going down twice holding his head after collisions in 25th and 29th minutes, but despite needing over 3 minutes of treatment on the field and a couple more on the sidelines, he remained in the game with tape apparently preventing a gash from bleeding.
United went into halftime with the final two meaningful looks, but Acosta's pass to Rolfe was mis-hit while DeLeon came around too much on a shot attempt after dribbling across the top of the LA penalty area. Both teams made subs at the break, with Espindola replacing Nyarko and Magee coming on for the ineffective Giovani dos Santos. United stayed in the 4411, with Neagle moving out to the right flank and Espindola playing up front. Neagle almost got an immediate assist, but a cross that would have given Rolfe a tap-in was blocked away by Robbie Rogers.
That's where things started to go wrong. Sebastian Lletget put an apron on Taylor Kemp down the United left before pinging a cross to Keane. The Irishman is normally deadly in these moments, but headed the ball off the crossbar instead. LA got the ball back and again whipped it in from the right, with Gyasi Zardes putting his point-blank header right at Andrew Dykstra.
Following another chaotic sequence under a minute later, LA equalized. United escaped the aforementioned danger by giving up a corner kick, and Magee's pinpoint service in the 54th minute found a charging Steres moving away from a crowd to nod the ball down and in past Dykstra, who never had a chance.
The Galaxy weren't in full control just yet though. In the 57th minute, Neagle smartly played DeLeon into a giant gap between Steres and A.J. DeLaGarza. DeLeon surged through the channel and beat Rowe with his shot, but the ball thumped off the foot of the post and was cleared by LA. Soon thereafter, Neagle had two separate shots blocked, while Bobby Boswell could only get glancing contact to a corner kick service.
Sadly, this was the Black-and-Red's moment, and it passed. Moments after Neagle's second shot was blocked in the 64th minute, Lletget and LA drew numbers towards the near side. United was badly out of defensive shape, and Lletget's cross was perfect for Magee, whose first touch popped up on him. Dykstra approached, but Magee calmly chipped the ball up and over United's 'keeper and in to give LA the lead.
Rolfe tried to heel-flick Kemp's dangerous cross in just after the 67th minute began, and minutes later the veteran was robbed by a fine tackle from Cole. United worked the ball to the left again, with Kemp's inviting cross going just a yard or so in front of Neagle at the back post. Kemp later ripped a long-range shot that Rowe nearly coughed up, and also slotted substitute Miguel Aguilar in behind Rogers only for the winger to be denied by an alert Rowe.
Cole, who turned around a poor first half by being arguably the best player in the game not named Mike Magee, grabbed the assist on the Galaxy's killer 83rd minute goal. United had pressed up, and Cole went over the top with an inch-perfect pass. United wanted an offside flag on Magee, but it wasn't coming. United should have been bailed out by Magee sending his lob wide of goal, but after the shot was taken Dykstra inexplicably stuck out a leg, tripping Magee inside the box. Stott gave the home side a penalty kick, and after the customary protests Keane slotted a perfect spot kick in.
United pushed high to try and save the game, but LA has been punishing teams that do that for years, and they did it once again in the 87th minute. Keane was bundled down at midfield, but a correct advantage call was given and the ball came back to Keane, who was again barged down by United. Gerrard's driven free kick froze Dykstra, and Magee managed to glance it in at the back post despite traffic swirling around him.
United will attempt to bounce back next Saturday, when they'll face the New England Revolution at 3pm.