Alvarez brace sees Galaxy past Orange County in Open Cup

CARSON, Calif. — The LA Galaxy defeated amateur side Orange County FC, by a final score of 3-0, on Wednesday night in front of 5,000 fans at the Dignity Health Sports Park Track & Field Stadium to advance to the fifth round of the US Open Cup.

Although the game wasn’t always a sure bet for the Galaxy, three second-half goals, two coming from 16-year-old Efrain Alvarez, finally edged a determined Orange County side.

The Galaxy started a decidedly first-team lineup while dealing with international call-ups and the absence of 37-year-old Zlatan Ibrahimovic who was given the night off.

Galaxy veteran Chris Pontious started in place of Ibrahimovic, and Favio Alvarez joined Efrain Alvarez in the midfield. 17-year-old Julian Araujo, fresh of his participation in the U-20 World Cup with the United States, made the start at right back.

Araujo was a shining star early on in the game with several dangerous crosses as he pressed into the attack. The youngster was even able to put a first-minute cross right on Emmanuel Boateng’s foot, only to watch the ball be poked wide from close-range.

The Galaxy would combine through the middle with Perry Kitchen – playing for Jonathan dos Santos while he’s with the Mexican National Team – and Favio Alvarez. Favio Alvarez would have some great combinations through the middle with Joe Corona and would launch several attempts at goal. Including one shot in the second half that would clank against the crossbar.

At halftime, the Galaxy had racked up a significant advantage in possession but had little to show for it. Meanwhile, Orange County had a couple of dangerous chances but no sustained pressure.

But in the second half, Boateng would draw a foul near the top of the box. The replays should little, if any, contact, but the speedster had drawn the foul and the free kick that went along with it.

From just shy of 20-yards out, Efrain Alvarez, along with Favio Alvarez, lined up to take the shot. Favio ran over the ball while Efrain laced a left-footed shot around and over the wall and into the near post beating goalkeeper David Preys. It was Efrain Alvarez’s first official goal as a senior team player for the Galaxy and gave them the 1-0 lead in the 55th-minute.

“It’s one the characteristics he has the way he shoots,” Galaxy Head Coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto said of Efrain’s curving free kick. “And yes, we were practicing it yesterday, but the truth is I think it has to do more with his quality then practice.”

Efrain would add a second goal in the 61st-minute thanks to some key pressing by Boateng, a good tackle by Pontius, a quick outlet pass by Kitchen, and some fancy footwork by Favio Alvarez to allow the younger Alvarez the goal.

It was the type of quick attacking team-goal the Galaxy have been trying to create in MLS games. But against an opponent that had little room for error, and with Boateng waving the team forward, it was the perfect amount of pressure, in just the right area of the field to cause the mistake.

“This was my best moment here at the LA Galaxy, and I can’t explain how happy I am to get the first goal, but I’m happier that we qualified for the next round,” Efrain Alvarez told reporters after the match.

Favio Alvarez, for his part, would go on to assist on Emil Cuello’s insurance goal in the 90th-minute, giving Favio Alvarez two assists on the night and a bunch of missed chances to score a goal of his own.

In total, the Galaxy would launch 24 shots toward goal to Orange County’s six. And while Paul Caligiuri’s (former Galaxy defender) side would put up a valiant effort, the Galaxy were rightfully too much for the NPSL side.

“They were pretty organized in the first half,” Galaxy captain Daniel Steres said of the Orange County. “We weren’t clinical enough in the first half in putting them away; we kind of let them go a bit. They put a good effort out there. They made a good run — they beat two USL teams.”

The Galaxy will now await US Soccer’s Thursday draw that should place them in a group with the Portland Timbers, San Jose Earthquakes, and crosstown rival Los Angeles Football Club. The location, opponent, and eventually the day will all be determined as a result of the draw as the Galaxy enter the round of 16 for at least their third straight year.

But the open cup comes at a time where the Galaxy are missing four internationals — Jonathan dos Santos, Uriel Antuna, Rolf Feltscher, and Giancarlo Gonzalez — and are prepping for a June 22 trip to FC Cincinnati as MLS play resumes after the Galaxy’s 20-day break.

The Galaxy were winners of the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup — the full name of the tournament — in 2001 and 2005. And have had numerous other close calls getting them to within striking distance of the oldest soccer tournament in the United States.

And most importantly, on the line for the winners of the tournament, is a chance at a trophy, and a spot in the CONCACAF Champions’ League.

“Our first objective this year is to qualify for the Playoffs,” Schelotto explained. “Surely, we will now play Wednesday and Saturday, but we’ll see what our possibilities are ahead of each game.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: The LA Galaxy have drawn the Portland Timbers in the round of 16 (Fifth Round). The Galaxy will travel to Portland next week (likely Tuesday or Wednesday).