The mechanics were different, but the broad strokes were nearly identical. On the heals of Sporting Kansas City’s 1-0 win over Cruz Azul, the LA Galaxy, at home Wednesday night in CONCACAF Champions League, took a 1-0 lead into halftime against their Mexican opposition: Club Tijuana. Despite their Liga MX visitors gaining the advantage in the second half, the Major League Soccer side still held on for a 1-0 victory – an edge they’ll take to Mexico for next week’s second leg.
The Galaxy even needed to match Sporting’s second half defensive heroics, but whereas it was Ike Opara and Seth Sinovic saving balls from open nets in Kansas, it was Jaime Penedo making a series of saves near the hour mark to keep his team in front. After nearly giving away the match, Penedo’s teammates regained enough of their footing to hold serve in Carson.
The final gives Bruce Arena’s side a slight edge ahead of the return leg at Estadio Caliente, one that looks fortunate considering the numerous good chances the team gave up in the second half. Given who was responsible for preserving that result, however, the final looks less like luck and more a result of a commitment LA made last season. In one 10-minute stretch of the second half, the Penedo reminded Galaxy fans of the difference between a goalkeeping weakness and a player who can steal results.
The Panamaian international helped preserve the late provided by Samuel, with the former Fluminense striker converting from near the spot in the 11th minute. On a ball lobbed over the defense by midfielder Marcelo Sarvas, Robbie Keane’s poor control was redeemed when his trap fell for his recently-acquired strike partner. A first-time finish into the left of goal gave LA a 1-0 lead.
Throughout the rest of the half, Arena’s was the better team, though control failed to translate into clear-cut chances. Though Landon Donovan was finding room behind Juan Nuñez down the left, LA was unable to replicate the type of opportunity that put them in front. When intermission was called, the Galaxy had to content themselves with their one-goal lead.
When their defense failed them early in the second half, LA’s lead looked destined to be short-lived. But Penedo, in the first exhibit of his imperious form, got a right palm to a short-range shot that was heading for the near post, even if the play would be called offside. Five minutes later, Penedo got no help from the whistles and needed an athletic save on Hernan Pellerano to keep his team in front.
Minutes later, Penedo was forced into a sprawling save as his poor read on a cross left his goal temporarily abandoned. A slow rolling ball toward his goal was swept away just before it crossed the line.
When Sarvas was called upon at the right post to save a potential 68th minutes equalizer, LA was finally getting help from more than their keeper. But they were still giving up good chances, with the onslaught Tijuana had conducted since 10 minutes into the period giving the impression an equalizer was inevitable. Seemingly losing every battle in the middle of the park, the Galaxy were being severely outplayed despite holding a one-goal edge.
As the 70th minute approached, however, the game began to level off. LA started winning balls in midfield, converting them into corner kicks as they headed toward Cirilo Saucedo’s goal. Come full-time, Tijuana’s strong stretch in the middle of the half looked more like a bad Galaxy run than a period that would define the match. The final whistle ensured the home team would take a 1-0 lead into next week’s leg in Tijuana.
It was an identical result to the one put up by their MLS brethren in Kansas City, but although the broad strokes were the same, the details ended up far different. And because Jaime Penedo’s night ended up more eventful than Eric Kronberg’s, the conclusions differed, too.
Whereas Sporting recent history and Wednesday performance hint they might be able to limit Cruz Azul in Mexico City, the Galaxy can’t rely on another set of Penedo heroics in Baja. LA needs to be better next Tuesday if they’re to make the Champions League semifinals.