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Photo by Steve Carrillo

Galaxy fight to the finish in 2-1 loss to Cruz Azul

CARSON, Calif. – Now it’s on to the next chapter of El Trafico with Los Angeles FC on Sunday, but not before the Galaxy gave Liga MX powerhouse Cruz Azul a thrilling battle in Tuesday’s Leagues Cup semifinal at Dignity Health Sports Park.

A crowd of 20,135 watched the Galaxy, starting a lineup featuring Galaxy II’s Nick Depuy making his first-team debut at center back, fight to the bitter end before falling 2-1.

“I’m very proud of the players,” Galaxy head coach Guillermo Schelotto said. “We competed with one of the best teams in Mexico, a big club.

“We had a lot of chances. We try, we fight … we deserved a little more.”

Emil Cuello scored the Galaxy’s lone goal, a strike of almost 30 yards in the 37th minute to give Los Angeles a 1-1 tie. Cruz Azul, which grabbed a 1-0 lead on Jose Maduena’s left-footer just four minutes into the match, eventually went ahead for good two minutes into the second half on Orbelin Pineda’s curling shot from 25 yards into the top corner of the net. But the Liga MX side then had to hang on for dear life.

Cruz Azul goalkeeper Jesus Corona, a former long-time standout with the Mexican national team, came up with a couple of big saves, including one on Chris Pontius’ header from deep in the penalty area in the 90th minute.

He also was up to the task in the 34th minute when Dan Steres, on the receiving end of a free kick from Efrain Alvarez – who was dangerous on those all night – tried to redirect the ball into the net with his right foot from point-blank range. Corona, however, somehow batted it away.

“I can’t believe that got saved,” Steres said of the play. “We were all over them on set pieces. I can’t believe we didn’t get anything out of them tonight.”

Cruz Azul, using its speed and quickness to great effect, went with its usual starting 11 and advanced to the Sept. 18 cup final against league rival Tigres UANL at Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas. But the Galaxy chose to rest many of its top players and managed to hold its own despite playing without the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Jonathan dos Santos and Diego Polenta. Uriel Antuna, another regular starter, went only 10 minutes in relief of Cuello. Sebastian Lletget went 22 minutes after coming in for Servando Carrasco.

“I’m proud. We stood up and didn’t back down,” said Pontius, who went the full 90 minutes for the first time since May 4 against New York Red Bulls. “They do so well moving the ball. We understood there were going to be moments in the game where we were on the back foot a little bit, but we knew when we broke out we could hit them pretty good.

“I don’t think we were clean enough in those moments, especially in the first half, but this is great experience for the younger players.”

The Galaxy were out-shot 11-9 but tied in shots on target with three each. Dave Romney, playing at left back, said he was proud of how a back line featuring Giancarlo Gonzalez and Depuy in the middle, with Romney on the left and Steres on the right along with goalkeeper Matt Lampson, stood up to the challenge.

Depuy, in particular, was impressive.

“I played with Nick before,” Romney said. “He’s a really physical center back (at 6 feet 5 and 205 pounds). I think they went with him because their No. 9 (Milton Caraglio, at 6-2) is really big. He’s kind of a target forward for them. Nick is a perfect match for him.

“Chances-wise, I don’t think they created too much outside the two goals outside the box. Lampson can’t do anything about those, they’re both amazing shots. We had a couple of solid chances.“A pretty even game,” Romney went on. “We just didn’t get the breaks I guess.”