Carson, CA – the LA Galaxy put together a strong defensive performance but ultimately fell short of taking control of the key 1st leg of the CONCACAF Champions League.
This is a team that saw five new players suit up for the start of tournament. The Galaxy started Dan Kennedy, Jelle Van Damme, Ashley Cole, Nigel De Jong and Emmanuel Boateng for the very first time in the white, blue and gold and every player on the field, besides Dan Kennedy made their first 90 minute foray of the young season.
#LAGalaxy Starting XI: Kennedy; Rogers, DLG, Van Damme, Cole; Dos Santos, De Jong, Gerrard, Boateng; Zardes, Keane pic.twitter.com/YrZATRBlKW
— LA Galaxy (@LAGalaxy) February 25, 2016
But despite the changes, the Galaxy found that the trends that have been ferreted out this preseason continue to plague them. With only three shots on goal, all in the first half, the offense struggled to find finishing on clear scoring chances.
With just a minute ticking by from the opening whistle the LA Galaxy saw their best scoring chance of the night when, on a corner kick, Giovani dos Santos found Jelle Van Damme in the box. Van Damme out-jumped a Santos defender and sent a rocket of a header past everyone except for the outstretched hand of Marchesin, the ‘keeper.
“I saw it go in already… I don’t even know what happened but it went fast. And when I headed I thought it was going in. But it didn’t.” Jelle Van Damme, LA Galaxy Defender
Other chances saw Robbie Keane unable to finish a ball put through by Steven Gerrard. A play that saw Keano outwit the Santos backline and do everything but finish. It was a short hop for sure, but normally, the Captain finishes those chances.
Another clear chance that earned the LA Galaxy a shot on goal came when Giovani dos Santos found himself marked but able to find space inside the box. He was able to get turned enough, and was being held and fouled as he turned, but ultimately was unable to place his shot to either side of the goalkeeper. It was an easy save.
The lone bright spot of the second half came when Giovani dos Santos and Robbie Rogers combined on a one-two pass that saw Rogers slip the ball between his legs with a backheel unlocking Dos Santos behind the defense. But Gio’s angle was tight and his pass or shot, only he knows which, was unable to find a target. It was a wasted opportunity on a created chance. Something the Galaxy needed to capitalize on.
For their part Santos Laguna played well. Although they were fortunate to not be trailing they provided their own fireworks when a shot was taken from just outside the box. It easily beat Kennedy but Giovani dos Santos was on the line waiting to fight it off. A tense moment but one that saw LA survive.
LA GALAXY’S WINGS STRUGGLE
Gyasi Zardes and Emmanuel Boateng struggled on the wing. Zardes got forward on the right hand side but ultimately couldn’t find room to run. Maybe Santos’ defense should be credited, but Zardes looked lost, uncomfortable and unable to play forward. He kept Rogers busy with back pass after back pass. Gyasi Zardes will need to learn to create space over on the wing if he’s going to survive there. And he looked confused. I think everyone was confused because he played every single minute of the preseason at the striker position and in this game he lined up at right wing. Zardes and Dos Santos ran into each other a couple of times but ultimately I was not a fan of Gyasi’s positioning or attacking. It was forgettable.
Boateng showed LA Galaxy fans how young he is. He was changed from the all out attacker they saw in the preseason. He was timid and shy going forward. He was unsure in the weight of his passes and ultimately unsure of where he was supposed to be going. Boateng still had some flashes of good, but this was a game he should forget. And if he’s to be successful in the return leg, he must play without fear.
The real stars of the night were the LA Galaxy defense. Cole, Van Damme, DeLaGarza and Rogers all had good games.
Rogers looked good going forward but his crosses left much to be desired. Cole combined well with De Jong going forward but ultimately needed to stay back on the defensive side. Dan Kennedy was solid in goal and shook off some earlier hiccups to put in a solid 3-save performance and De Jong and Gerrard did well to control the midfield.
“I really think we approached the game right. Getting out of there with a shutout is important and that will put us in a good position next week. We should feel good about it. The Game was there for us to win so there’s no reason we can’t go down to Mexico and get a good result.” Dan Kennedy, LA Galaxy Goalkeeper
The Pairing of Jelle Van Damme and AJ DeLaGarza also should make Galaxy fans feel comfortable. Playing their first minutes together, both players complimented each other well and organized a new backline into a solid performance.
“His physicality. His ability to win balls. He’s just dangerous on the attacking side of the ball. And, you hate to compare them, but somewhat of an Omar (Gonzalez).” AJ DeLaGarza, LA Galaxy Defender
And this should come as no surprise but Nigel De Jong was outstanding on the night. He continuously put himself in the right position and made very good, timely tackles. For as much as his physicality is highlighted he just plays the game so smart. He’s a true defensive midfielder. He chooses his time appropriately to apply strangling pressure and he knows when to go forward in support of the attack. He will allow Gerrard to be able to attack. And he’ll relieve him of the burden of having to always play defense.
LA GALAXY HEAD TO TORREÓN
The LA Galaxy have many options to punch their ticket through to the semifinals. Unlike any other MLS team they aren’t in a hole on aggregate score and they didn’t allow an away goal. That being said, having to go down to Mexico and either win outright or draw the game with any score of greater than 0-0 (example 1-1, 2-2, 3-3 etc) is still a monumental task.
Bruce isn’t expected to make many changes. But perhaps we’ll see more of Sebastian Lletget in place of Boateng.
This can’t be “just another game.” Because it’s going to take a special performance to see this team through to the next round. The Galaxy will have to find a way to score goals. And against a solid Mexican team, on their home turf, chances will need to be created and finished. It’s unlikely the Galaxy will survive on a fluke.
Regardless, the LA Galaxy will start their journey on Sunday afternoon after training. And all eyes will be on them to see if they can make a statement in a place that is particularly difficult to find a result.
“It could be worse. I think we are going to go there Tuesday and try to win the game. Obviously, if we get a draw or if we get a goal it would put us through. We will see. We will try to go there and get a win.” Bruce Arena, LA Galaxy Head Coach & General Manager