Youthful LA Galaxy team dominates Trinidad & Tobago champs Central FC to open their Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League campaign.
“We have to win. It’s win or go home. That’s the strategy.” – LA Galaxy Head Coach/General Manager Bruce Arena
After not qualifying last year, the LA Galaxy returned to the Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League (SCCL) for the fifth time and opened their pursuit for their first Champions League title with a dominant performance Thursday night at StubHub Center in Carson. In the buildup to this game the Galaxy made it clear that earning the win was their primary goal. Speaking to LA Galaxy Insider Adam Serrano, Bruce Arena said, “We have to win. It’s win or go home. That’s the strategy.”
With that thought in mind there was speculation that Arena would start many of the first-team regulars for this game and the August 18 match against CSD Comunicaciones in an attempt to secure six early points in Group D of the tournament; however, the team that started on the field was made up primarily of younger players. Given the opportunity to make an impression, the youngsters made the most of their chance and controlled the match from the beginning. Also, newcomer Giovani dos Santos made his club debut and made an immediate impact, scoring his first goal in a Galaxy uniform and coming close on a couple of other opportunities.
LA opened the scoring in the 4th minute. Literally a couple of minutes after heading a cross from Raul Mendiola over the crossbar, Ignacio Maganto sent a well-timed pass into the box for Gyasi Zardes. Zardes then delivered a cross to Alan Gordon who headed the ball past Central goalkeeper Jan Michael Williams to the far post. Even that early in the game it looked as if the Galaxy were going to run rampant.
CONCACAF referees have a reputation for being less than stellar in their officiating; this was recently reinforced during the Gold Cup, specifically in the semi-final match between Mexico and Panama. On this evening, referee Christopher Reid made his presence known on the next possession by Central. A ball was played from just inside the Galaxy’s side of the pitch to the box. Central’s Willis Plaza made an attempt to catch up to it but LA’s keeper Brian Rowe came off his line, grabbed the ball, and made what appeared to be a clean tackle. With no hesitation, Reid immediately pointed to the spot, giving Central FC a penalty kick. LA defender Dan Gargan was visibly upset with the call and Gordon, the captain for the evening, had to intervene. Rowe himself plead his case and Rafael Garcia even tried to bring in the sideline official, but all of this was to no avail. Central’s Ataulla Guerra stepped up to take the penalty and was able to power it past Rowe, who had dived in the right direction but just missed stopping the ball.
“Welcome to CONCACAF.” – Bruce Arena
Had this been the only bad call of the evening it may have been understandable. In a sport without the benefit of instant replay officials have to call the plays as they see them in real-time and that means sometimes mistakes are made. However, when fouls are called with no consistency and gross errors are made it does bring into question the quality of the officiating crew and even more, the integrity of CONCACAF itself.
Another prime example of this came during the 38th minute. About six minutes earlier Raul Mendiola took a pass from Gyasi Zardes and was able to get around Williams to deliver the simple empty net goal. Mendiola was making another attacking run and as he approached the box, Williams came out and leveled him, driving his knee and elbow into Mendiola’s chest and face. Mendiola went down and eventually had to be stretchered off the field. At first, it appeared that Reid had not even called a foul but as LA lined up for a free kick the PA announced that Williams had been given a yellow card. Again, it could be said that this was simply a judgment call by the referee but given that Williams charged the player and missed the ball completely, a red card would have been justified. Ultimately, Mendiola did not return to the match and Sebastian Lletget subbed in for him. Reports on Twitter say that Mendiola was talking after the match but concerns about a potential concussion were expressed.
“I don’t have anything official, it didn’t look good…” – Bruce Arena
Replays shown during the broadcast of the game on Fox Sports 2 also brought into question the accuracy of at least a couple of offside calls that cost LA goals. To LA’s credit, they did not let the questionable calls shake them as they continued throughout the night to be aggressive on offense and shut Central down defensively, allowing them only 3 shots the entire game. Zardes was able to convert a second half penalty and Maganto capped the scoring in the 84th minute with an assist from Lletget.
While the Galaxy faithful would have shown up just to support the team in their CONCACAF efforts, they were also there to see the debut of Mexican star Giovani dos Santos. Arena had said earlier in the week at his introductory press conference that dos Santos would play. Indeed, when he got up to check into the game just before the 57th minute the crowd took notice, chanting, “Gio! Gio!” The roar was deafening as he took the field and every time he had a touch it seemed electricity went through the stadium. After a near miss and a ball called back for offsides, dos Santos scored his first of hopefully many goals for the Galaxy in the 76th minute, assisted by Garcia and Lletget. After his successful debut and Steven Gerrard’s during the International Champions Cup, the Galaxy seemed poised to go deep into the MLS post-season in an attempt to capture an unprecedented sixth championship.
“Well I feel good. I think we had a great win. I am happy to score my first goal for the club and I’m looking forward to keep that going.” – LA Galaxy forward Giovani dos Santos
On almost every level, the Galaxy players performed well. Many players who have not had many minutes with the first team showcased their abilities. Maganto and Mendiola both looked dangerous and handled the ball well. Mika Vayrynen was active on both sides, shutting down Central FC by stealing or intercepting the ball and also delivering some classy passes. Lletget and Zardes also shined on the evening, showing that the present and future of the LA attack seems to be in good hands. And of course dos Santos also had a stellar debut. If this team continues to gel and their chemistry improves, it would not seem unreasonable to consider LA the favorites for both the MLS Cup and the CONCACAF Champions League trophy.