CARSON -- The most prolific goal-scoring team in Major League Soccer had a terrible attack Sunday night in the first leg of the Western Conference semifinals at the Home Depot Center.

Then strapping defender Victor Bernardez let one fly on a free kick with seconds left to give the Earthquakes a stirring 1-0 victory over rival Los Angeles in front of a sellout crowd of 27,000.

The 6-foot-2 Honduran international stunned the Galaxy with another late goal to put San Jose a step closer to reaching the conference finals after more than 90 minutes of taut action that seemed headed for a scoreless draw.

Bernardez spent the game trying to fend off Los Angeles' galaxy of stars, including Ireland's Robbie Keane.

But when it was his time to strike, the center back had one thought:

"It's always to score," he said in Spanish.

The regular-season champions left MLS's star-studded team dismayed.

The Quakes had rallied three times against Los Angeles this year, winning twice and tying last month at Buck Shaw Stadium. Now the teams play Wednesday night at Buck Shaw; the series winner will be determined on total goals in both games.

The Quakes (19-6-9 in the regular season) have not lost at Buck Shaw Stadium in 18 matches dating to last season. They need only a tie to advance against Seattle or Real Salt Lake.


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It could not have worked out much better for MLS's top-scoring team with 72 goals in the regular season. Keeping Los Angeles (16-12-6) out of the net wasn't easy. Keane hit the crossbar with a dangerous strike in the 85th minute that might have turned the game in the Galaxy's favor.

But second-half substitute Simon Dawkins gave San Jose one last try in extra time when getting fouled near the penalty area. Bernardez likes to take shots from distance -- this one was about 30 yards out. He struck a low-lying ball that squirted underneath L.A. goalkeeper Josh Saunders as the Galaxy looked shocked.

It was the Quakes' ninth stoppage-time goal this year and sixth game-winner.

"I've seen that shot move in practice," teammate Chris Wondolowski said. "It's tough to stop."

Bernardez's goal adds to the memorable playoff matches the teams have experienced. The 2003 series was one of MLS's best in its 17-year history, when San Jose rallied from a two-goal deficit in the first game to advance to the conference finals.

Two years later, the Quakes won the Supporters' Shield as regular-season champions only to get bounced by Los Angeles in the first round of the playoffs.

Despite numerous injuries, the Galaxy had lost only one game in its previous 10, including a knockout playoff game against the Vancouver Whitecaps on Thursday. Los Angeles had won five consecutive playoff games until Sunday.

The Earthquakes don't plan to back off Wednesday, the players promised.

"It would be really foolish of us to sit back," said Alan Gordon, who played in the second half despite nursing an ankle sprain. "We're going to try to win the game."

The Earthquakes held the hosts to a scoreless first half despite being thoroughly outplayed by the Galaxy's superior passing and defending. San Jose had none of the dynamism that led to a 72-goal regular season.

The Quakes' only real threat came in the third minute when star forward Wondolowski broke free because of a misplayed ball by defender Tommy Meyer. But the league's leading scorer struck just wide from a difficult angle.

For the next 40-plus minutes, Los Angeles controlled the tempo, as the Earthquakes seemed more interested in keeping the score close in the first leg.

The Galaxy's best chance came in the eighth minute on David Beckham's short free kick that found two teammates behind the defense. But a twisting Keane headed it just wide of the net. An inch the other way and the Earthquakes would have been in trouble with goalkeeper Jon Busch on the ground.

Contact Elliott Almond at 408-920-5865. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/elliottalmond.