LA Galaxy opened up their competitive season with a 0-0 draw against Liga MX’s Santos Laguna in leg one of the CONCACAF Champions League Quarterfinals last night. In spite of a sizzling opening header from Jelle Van Damme saved by Agustin Machesin in a one-handed display, the two sides remained fairly even throughout the night. Dan Kennedy made five saves to help provide LA with a clean sheet at home and the new LA Galaxy backline was the clear darling of the night.
In spite of a zero goal scoreline, both teams had plenty of goal scoring opportunities. LA’s best chance came within the first minute from Jelle Van Damme’s header off a corner kick, and Santos’ was in the 67th minute, when Jesus Molina’s shot hit Giovani Dos Santos in the side, leading to unsuccessful appeals for a handball. “That was probably our biggest defensive play.” – Dan Kennedy, LA Galaxy.
Although the growing pains on the attacking end of LA Galaxy were clear with only 3 of 11 shots on goal, there were signs of progression and growth in their backline. Five newcomers were in the starting lineup including Ashley Cole, Nigel de Jong and Jelle Van Damme and it didn’t take long for their added experience and instinct to prove worthy. A.J. DeLaGarza, after playing his first full 90-minute match this year, mirrored that in his assessment of their performance. “[Van Damme and I] are both communicating well and listen to one another. It was a good sight to see and hopefully we can improve on it.”
Jelle Van Damme’s zealous defensive plays were indeed a highlight of the night, even if they border on the riskier side from time to time (including when he accidentally took out Robbie Rogers). His unswerving belief in keeping a clean sheet at home was clear from the start and is likely what will drive him throughout the season.
“That was the most important thing. Because at the end of the day you’ve got two legs and you can’t concede at home because if they get an away goal, it’s going to be even harder for us to get one there. But we went 0-0 … We had plenty of opportunities, but we didn’t do it at the end, but the most important thing was that we didn’t concede. Now we can go with a clear mind to Santos and try to get a win there.”
– Jelle Van Damme
Bruce Arena applauded de Jong’s defensive midfield play last night as one of their strong points, but there were moments when his positioning allowed Santos Laguna to slip through and put attacking pressure on LA’s backline, something which they were able to absorb this time but remains to be tested in the long run. As always, especially this early on, a little more communication and give and take between him and Gerrard will go a long way in resolving that issue.
DeLaGarza reflected on room for improvement for next week’s match in Torreon in their ability to defend on set pieces. “We just have to do what we did today defensively and be solid. Where we went wrong was our defensive set pieces. We just have to be aware of where we are in the field.” – A.J. DeLaGarza.
“Could be worse. We’re going to go out Tuesday. Try to win the game. Obviously a draw where we get a goal would put us through.”
– Bruce Arena, LA Galaxy
The match became more heated towards the end of the second half with both sides desperate for a goal. Carlos Izquierdoz redirected a free kick just wide of the goal in the 78th minute for Santos Laguna. A well-played one-two between Giovani Dos Santos and Robbie Rogers on the edge of the box failed to result in a Galaxy shot but showed promise. On the sidelines somehow Robbie Keane and Santos Laguna manager Luis Zubeldia got in a heated shoving match before being separated. The final whistle was a relief.
Somehow, LA Galaxy just barely starting their season, and Santos Laguna who are already midway through theirs, ended the night on par, but the rivalry is far from over and things will get more interesting and tactical in Mexico next week when the Guerreros will have their two starting strikers back.
“With this result the series is still open,” he said. “But we need to [win].” – Luis Zubeldia, Santos Laguna.
The second leg of the series is March 1 at Santos Laguna (10 pm ET). Don’t miss it!