Galaxy blank Loyal – and Donovan – to advance in Open Cup play

CARSON, Calif. — The LA Galaxy will move on to the Round of 32 in the US Open Cup after their less than thrilling 1-0 victory over the San Diego Loyal on Tuesday night at Dignity Health Sports Park.

The much-maligned Kevin Cabral scored the game’s only goal in the 28th-minute of the match, and he nearly missed that golden opportunity until it fell into his lap.

Defender Eriq Zavaleta, who made his Galaxy debut on the night, lofted a ball onto the head of forward Dejan Joveljic. Joveljic headed the ball down to Cabral, and when he took his first shot at it, it looked like an easy tap-in. Instead, the ball bounced off the left post and back to Cabral, who cleaned up his own rebound.

In other words, he made a somewhat easy goal look very difficult.

But that would be all the scoring that would come out of the game.

The Galaxy may have had 18 shots in total, but only four found the target. And the Galaxy’s 28 touches and nine shots inside the box amounted to a lot of nothing. Not even the 204 total passes in the final third led to anything definitive for LA.

But Galaxy coach Greg Vanney, who played many of his starters against the USL side in the first-ever meeting between the two clubs, was pleased with the overall effort, especially if that meant getting his team their first look at a three-game schedule.

“It’s a competition that we want to be competitive in,” Vanney said when asked about playing so many starters in the match. “For us, this year, it’s about winning trophies. This is an opportunity. So, we take the game seriously.

“By and large, happy to get through the game relatively clean and to be moving on, and now focus our attention on Saturday,” he continued. “Because the game was on Tuesday, I feel like we have another day to recover. If it was on Wednesday, maybe there’s a different scenario in my mind. But, because it was Tuesday, I felt like guys could get a few minutes and be alright.”

Zavaleta, as mentioned above, made his Galaxy debut on the night at center-back, and youngsters Jonathan Perez and Daniele Aguirre made their first career starts for the club.

Zavaleta, for his part, looked shaky in his first 90 minutes of 2022. But he helped the Galaxy to stonewall a determined Loyal side in the latter stages of the match, clearing balls with his head and going into physical challenges up the field on several attempts from San Diego to play out of danger.

Meanwhile, Aguirre and Perez made the most of their appearances with the club. Aguirre, in particular, had some nice moves in the middle of the field, staying calm under pressure and moving the ball quickly and purposefully up the field.

But there was more than just a game being played in front of a typical Open Cup midweek crowd. And the unique meeting between a bunch of former Galaxy players (Vanney, Dan Calichman, Kevin Hartman) was the backdrop to the entire US Open Cup experience.

Landon Donovan Patrols the sidelines in the San Diego Loyal’s 1-0 loss to the LA Galaxy on April 20, 2022, in the US Open Cup at Dignity Health Sports Park.

And anytime Landon Donovan can return to the building he helped to cement into US Soccer history, where he grew his unimaginable legend, and where his statue greats guests out front, it makes for an exceptional experience.

Donovan, now in his third year as head coach (and owner) of the San Diego side, was aware of just how special the moment was.

“I’m really grateful,” he said. “I think we shared a lot of amazing memories together over ten years. So you know, one of my assistants asked at one point, you know, ‘do you recognize a lot of these faces?’ And I said yeah, almost all of them, you know, as I’m walking along, I used to warm up down in the corner. And you just know a lot of the faces, and so it was really nice that they gave that reception.

“And I told Chris Klein before the game there’s something now special, really special, about this stadium. You can feel the history now when you come into the stadium, and I believe now it’s the oldest MLS stadium still standing — original stadium still standing — so there’s real history here. And you can feel that when you walk in. And that’s really special for this league.”