CARSON, Calif. — The LA Galaxy took Club Tijuana of Liga MX to penalty kicks on Tuesday night at Dignity Health Sports Park, and maybe surprisingly, walked away with the victory.
In the first-ever game of the newly created Leagues Cup — pitting four teams from MLS against four teams from Liga MX — the Galaxy were the first MLS team to advance to the semi-finals of the tournament.
The Galaxy got goals from Emmanuel Boateng and Dave Romney on either side of the half while the Xolos scored twice thanks to a superb finish from Ariel Nahuelpán and Washington Camacho in the first half.
It was an oddly entertaining game that saw the Xolos start the same team that had defeated Puebla 3-1 on July 19. The Galaxy, on the other hand, started a decidedly reserve team. Only defenders Julian Araujo and Giancarlo Gonzalez reprised their starting roles from the team’s 3-2 victory over LAFC.
The prevailing thought amongst fans was that a loss in the game for the Galaxy would only strengthen their focus on the regular season. And the reserve lineup would ensure that the Galaxy wouldn’t face any undue schedule congestion.
Boateng scored on a redirected shot from LA Galaxy II midfielder Kai Koreniuk in the 27th-minute. Koreniuk’s right-footed shot was hit with pace, but Xolos goalkeeper Gibran Lajud was already tracking it. But Boateng slipped inside and changed the angle on the ball with an outstretched leg.
And with the ball nestled in the back of the net, the far-side linesman’s flag went up after some discussion. But center referee Said Martinez of Honduras quickly called a goal after a snappy video review on the field.
“I just cut into the top of the box, played Kai [Koreniuk] wide, and I just tried to get in the box to finish it and then he hit a shot,” Boateng told reporters after the game. “I just saw the keeper dive and tried to get in the way and redirect it. I mean I stuck my leg out to get there, it didn’t just hit me. But I mean he hit a good shot, and I didn’t think he had enough power on it, so I just redirected it and gave the keeper something to worry about.”
The Xolos would equalize six minutes later on Nahuelpan’s only goal of the night after some beautiful passing that exposed the Galaxy’s backline in just three passes.
And then Camacho would score just before halftime on a ball that was cut back from the right side of the box by Omar Mendoza. Camacho would blast his shot into the upper left corner catching Lampson who was just a bit late in coming back across the net.
But make no mistake, it was a brilliantly finished shot.
Romney would get in on the scoring off a set piece in the 54th-minute of the match. That’s when Efrain Alvarez’s left-footed corner would find him all alone about three yards from goal. Romney drove the ball into the net with his head and evened the score up.
“I don’t know who was marking me because they weren’t,” Romney laughed as he explained his goal. “It was one of the easier goals you’ll score. I didn’t really do much. It was just a great goal by Efrain [Alvarez] and just a lapse of defending.
It’s not like I did anything spectacular,” he continued. “Just right place, right time.”
The Xolos would outshoot the Galaxy by a total of 20 to seven, and hold over 60-percent of the possession. And while the Galaxy’s defense would bend, it did not break.
Even Julin Araujo’s second yellow card in the 2nd-minute of stoppage time didn’t deter the Galaxy from staying resolute.
So when it finally came down to penalty kicks — under the rules of the Leagues Cup tied games go straight to penalties — the Galaxy knew they had a chance at victory.
Servando Carrasco buried the first penalty for the Galaxy before Erick Torres missed the Xolos first shot. Then it was Efrain Alvarez’s turn, but his shot hit the inside of the left post and ran all the way across the goal but stayed out for the Galaxy’s first miss.
Tijuana’s Nahuelpán would score the next goal, but the Xolos wouldn’t put another past Lampson. Which was especially helpful when Emil Cuello haad his shot saved.
Boateng would score after Diego Braghieri would have his shot saved, and when Ángel Sepúlveda had also seen Lampson save his shot, the Galaxy’s Gonazlez would seal the game by making his shot.
“I think we tied with a really good team,” Galaxy Head Coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto told reporters in his post-game press conference. “They made playoffs last season in Mexico. Matt [Lampson] saved three penalties. I think he was very important to win today.”
And getting a win over a full-strength Xolos team was also a significant accomplishment. Something Schelotto was quick to point out.
“We know we were playing with professional teams. We know we can’t make a mistake. I know a lot of them,” he said.
“I said to guys before the game, you have to play one on one when you get the ball near the box. We tried and got the first one. We took advantage of the set pieces on the second one. And then, when we tied 2-2, the team was fighting.
“They fought, not like young [players], like men.”
The Galaxy will advance to play Cruz Azul who beat the Chicago Fire earlier in the evening. The game will be played at Dignity Health Sports Park on August 20 and will see the Galaxy play four games in just nine days — a full schedule, to say the least.
“We will go game by game trying to find a balance, and also find balance in our games,” Schelotto said in Spanish. “The truth is that in our recent results, in the derby [against LAFC], or today’s result against Club Tijuana, it gives us a lot of positive energy to face these series of games that we have to play as visitors, and to be prepared to see how far we can get in this tournament.”