Victor Bernadez scored on a free kick deep into stoppage time Sunday night to lift the San Jose Earthquakes to a 1-0 triumph over the Los Angeles Galaxy in the opener of their Western Conference semifinal series.
The Honduran defender blistered the ball from 31 yards through the Galaxy wall at the top of the box and off goalkeeper Josh Saunders, who was unable to keep it from crossing the goal line.
The second leg in the aggregate series is Wednesday in Santa Clara with the winner in the aggregate series advancing to a home-and-home matchup with the Seattle Sounders or Real Salt Lake for a berth in the Dec. 1 MLS Cup final.
"It's halftime," said San Jose coach Frank Yallop, whose team twice rallied from two-goal deficits to beat L.A. and overcame two disadvantages for a 2-2 draw two weeks ago in the regular-season meetings between the longtime rivals. "It was an even game, they shaded on chances, for sure, but we're going home now. We're one up, but 90 minutes of football is a long, long time.
"They're going to throw everything at us to try to get the equalizer and obviously try to go on and win. We know that."
Bernardez, who forced a sprawling save from Saunders on a free kick at the start of the second half, took the kick after Marcelo Sarvas fouled Simon Dawkins, a call the Galaxy disputed. His low shot sneaked through the wall, and Saunders made the initial stop but couldn't corral the spinning ball.
"I'm always looking to score when I take a free kick like that from distance," said Bernardez, a Honduran centre back. "The important thing is it went it. That's all that really matters."
The Galaxy had more and better chances in an intense affair battled primarily in midfield, but their best opportunity — a Robbie Keane blast from 26 yards in the 86th minute— caromed off the crossbar. L.A. didn't take a shot until the 67th minute — Sean Franklin firing toward the lower-left corner — and that was the only difficult stop Quakes goalkeeper Jon Busch was forced to make.
"I thought our team played well tonight," Galaxy coach Bruce Arena said. "Obviously, we didn't finish off plays technically in and around the penalty area. It cost us the game. We were in position to get a goal or two tonight for sure. Failed to execute the last pass or shot."