The Galaxy traveled south to Tijuana to round out their two-part series against the Xolos for a place in the CONCACAF semi-finals. Although they left SoCal with a 1-0 lead, LA lost that quickly, and ended up defeated on the night at 4-2 (4-3 aggregate).
FROM THE FIRST WHISTLE
LA’s defense couldn’t get the basics right. In the opening ten minutes Jaime Ayoví scored twice. First he capitalized on poor clear by A.J. DeLaGarza, then again when he managed to sneak behind both Riley and Leonardo.
“The game plan wasn’t to let two goals in the first ten minutes, so it’s a different game plan after that. I give credit to them, they came out flying, and they know how to play on their pitch.”
They were telling goals, as the defense spent much of the night getting beaten at the fundamentals. The center backs were consistently on the wrong side of the ball, doing more chasing than defending, and left Jaime Penedo fending for himself far too often. Penedo’s often brilliant, but this wasn’t his game — his biggest problem was misjudging where the ball was going, and it’s possible he’s the only person on LA’s side who can legitimately blame the turf for his poor showing.
“When you start a game like that then you don’t deserve it. We lost the game in the first 25 minutes, we know that.”
The Galaxy managed to find their stride, at least a little, about twenty minutes in. But the damage had been done — before the half was over LA was down 3-0 (3-1 aggregate).
KEANE’S BRACE NOT ENOUGH
Robbie Keane had the only highlights of the night for the Galaxy, with two goals in the second half. The first was part of a set piece that looked very well practiced. Donovan took the kick, launching the ball at Omar Gonzalez’s head, who deflected it down and found Keane’s toe.
The second was a perfectly placed shot in the 85th minute, with Keane making the most of an assist from Donovan by slotting it right under the Xolos’ keeper.
It was a play that should look familiar to any LA fan — Donovan and Keane charging the goal, pairing up beautifully, like they did so many times last year. I don’t think it bodes well for Bruce Arena’s new line-up that when the Galaxy get desperate, they ditch the new plan — with Donovan ostensibly out on the wing — and revert to the style of play that’s found them so much success in the past.
Old habits die hard — doubly so when the new ones aren’t working.
“We showed a lot of character in the second half which is a positive. But certainly, the goals that we conceded and the mistakes that we made cost us. We can’t come to Mexico and expect an easy ride because all the games are going to be difficult.”
THE COMEBACK THAT WASN’T
LA made two subs at halftime — a rarity for Bruce Arena — and they quickly proved their worth. Todd Dunivant returned from injury to stabilize the back line. And Rob Friend joined Keane up top, where a little bit of muscle was key to buying space for Robbie Keane to work.
“Playing against them we had to use our advantage and putting me up front, playing more direct, getting fouls, getting a little bit dirty, we had to play that way.”
It was a noticeable improvement, but not enough. By the final ten minutes LA finally looked dangerous, throwing everything possible at a Xolos’ defense that looked ready to buckle under pressure. Unfortunately for LA, the final whistle came too soon.
Maybe that’s the best you can say about the Galaxy’s showing: for the first time this year, they looked more alive at the end of a game than at the beginning. Next LA head into a tough rematch against Real Salt Lake, where they’ll have to hope to put a miserable 45 minutes in Tijuana behind them.