Van Damme-led LA Galaxy take MLS playoff edge over Colorado Rapids

Jelle Van Damme was immense in defense–and in the attack–as the LA Galaxy held off the Colorado Rapids for a first-leg victory in the Western Conference semifinals.
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The LA Galaxy beat Colorado 1-0 in their first leg of the MLS Western Conference semifinals behind a second-half goal by Giovani Dos Santos. The goal came after center back Jelle Van Damme made a terrific move on the ball in the box to set up his teammate, whose shot was deflected into the goal by Colorado’s Axel Sjöberg.

The Galaxy will take that 1-0 edge to Dick's Sporting Goods Park next Sunday, looking to oust the second-seeded Rapids and advance to the conference final, though there's plenty of soccer to be played in Colorado in the second leg before this result is decided.

Here are three thoughts on the first leg:

Van Damme flashed the skills we’ve seen before

More than any center back in MLS today—and just about any in the league’s history—Van Damme can change games with his technical skills on the attacking end of the field. We’ve seen it in other games this season when Van Damme has skillfully set up his teammates for goals, but his deft move in the box that led to LA’s goal was a thing of beauty.

Van Damme has played as a midfielder in his career, and you can tell. He has composure on the ball in the places that matter to help create goals. Combine that with his ability on the defensive end, where Van Damme was stellar on Sunday, and you have one of the best acquisitions the league has seen in a long time.

Leslie Jones cannot stop tweeting about soccer, the MLS playoffs and Tim Howard

Colorado can still win this thing

The Rapids are only one goal down heading back home, where they haven’t lost a game all season, and they were a better team in the second half once Jermaine Jones entered the game. As Jones showed, his intensity at both ends of the field is key for Colorado, and it’s the kind of approach that’s tailor-made for playoff soccer.

I’d also like to see Marlon Hairston get the start in the return leg after not doing so on Sunday, not least because he’s capable of providing the spark that can lead to goals. Colorado will need to get more from Shkelzen Gashi, who was largely anonymous on the attacking end against the Galaxy Sunday.

Gordon deserves to continue starting

Robbie Keane isn’t quite fit enough to start yet post-injury, and for that matter Gordon’s skill set—he’s a true, old-fashioned center forward, a No. 9—is a better fit to draw the most out of Dos Santos. We’ve seen all season that Dos Santos and Keane have yet to get totally on the same page, and given the current circumstances, Gordon is a better option right now to start up top and work with Dos Santos.

Gordon has scored some important goals recently, but even when he doesn’t score (as was the case on Sunday) he can have a significant influence on things. Gordon’s presence near the goal helped draw the attention of Colorado defenders on the play Dos Santos scored.