For the first time in CONCACAF Champions League history, there are two Major League Soccer teams in the tournament’s semifinals, with the LA Galaxy joining the Seattle Sounders in the final four after Wednesday night’s 4-1 win over Herediano. But even though the defending MLS champions were expected to move past their Costa Rican counterparts, don’t overlook the danger posed by tonight’s second leg in Carson.
After last week’s 0-0 in Heredia, Bruce Arena’s team couldn’t afford to give up the first goal at home. Should that happen, the Costa Ricans would not only have the lead and the valuable away goals tiebreaker, but they’d be in position to start bunkering almost immediately.
While you can argue LA — the experienced, superior side — was unlikely to let that happen, you could have said the same thing before the play-in round of last season’s playoffs. When Vancouver snatched the first goal last November at Home Depot Center, things got nervy.
Tonight there was no such drama thanks to LA’s ever-enviable combination of experienced stars and emerging talents.
It was one of the veterans that opened the scoring early in the first half. Off a corner kick from Juninho, Omar Gonzalez headed home LA’s first, the Galaxy defender putting his team up one in the 18th minute.
But the danger wasn’t over. Up 1-0 at intermission, LA sat through halftime knowing one Herediano goal could put them out of the competition.
In the 69th minute, Jose Villarreal alleviated all worries. The 19-year-old attacker, who was so impressive at the recent CONCACAF U-20 Championships, put in a curler from long-range that beat Daniel Cambronero. LA was up 2-0.
Robbie Keane added a third 14 minutes later, and after Elías Aguilar pulled Herediano back within two in the 85th minute, 18-year-old Jack McBean restored LA’s three-goal margin.
For a team know for their high-priced, superstar talent, the contrast between Wednesday’s goal scorers was striking. On one hand you had Gonzalez and Keane, arguably the best players at their positions in Major League Soccer. One is coming off an MLS Cup Most Valuable Player award. The other has 126 career English Premier League goals.
On the other hand, you have Villarreal and McBean, two players who are a combined 37 years old. Together, they have two Major League Soccer goals, the same number they scored in the last 24 minutes of tonight’s match. And together, they are one of the best prospect tandems in the league.
For LA’s rivals, the onslaught provided a glimpse of a worrisome future, especially considering the Galaxy also count 21-year-old Gyasi Zardes among its young talents. Then there’s this little detail: LA still have that one Designated Player spot open.
If anybody retained hope the waning Beckham-Donovan-Keane era would end LA’s dominance, Wednesday may have provided a wake up call. If they can keep their youngsters in Los Angeles, the Galaxy will reload, not rebuild.