Second half heroics from Jaime Penedo give LA Galaxy 1-0 lead ahead of leg two in Tijuana


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.

MLS Cup Playoffs: LA Galaxy 3-1 Real Salt Lake (video)

Los Angeles Galaxy defender Jelle Van Damme (37) congratulates forward Alan Gordon (9) for scoring against the Real Salt Lake during the first half of a knockout round MLS playoff soccer match in Carson, Calif., Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2016. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)
AP Photo/Alex Gallardo
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The game in 100 words (or less): The LA Galaxy are through to the conference semifinals of the MLS Cup Playoffs, where they’ll take on the Colorado Rapids beginning Sunday, for the seventh time in eight years with a 3-1 knockout-round triumph over Real Salt Lake at the StubHub Center on Wednesday. Alan Gordon put the home side ahead inside the first quarter-hour before RSL drew level seven minutes later, but Emmanuel Boateng bagged a quickfire brace to complete a pair of brilliant individual exhibitions of dribbling inside the penalty area. With Steven Gerrard unavailable and Robbie Keane only fit to feature off the bench, Bruce Arena turned to Gordon, who gave way to Keane early in the second half after picking up an injury of his own, to play the fulcrum of the Galaxy attack, and it worked to near-perfection during the opening half-hour. Landon Donovan started the game and played 87 minutes, providing the kind of defensive work rate that’s been missing up and down the flanks of LA all season. Sebastian Lletget put in a near-flawless passing performance while playing deep in midfield. Don’t look now, but those are the Galaxy’s biggest question of 2016, all just about answered as the playoffs begin. I won’t say, “I told you so” if/when they win MLS Cup 2016, but…

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS Cup Playoffs preview coverage ]

Three Four moments that mattered

14′ — Gordon finishes from close range for 1-0 — Landon Donovan -> Giovani dos Santos -> Alan Gordon. Just like Bruce Arena drew it up in preseason midseason last month this week this morning.

21′ — Plata converts from the spot after Morales’ dive — Javier Morales was angling for a penalty from the moment he entered the penalty area. All Emmanuel Boateng had to do was look at him, and Morales was going down.

26′ — Boateng weaves through to make it 2-1 — Left. Right. Left. Right. Left. Boateng took advantage of some poor defending, and the Galaxy were back in the lead.

34′ — Boateng cuts inside, blows past his man, makes it 3-1 — There’s playing in top gear, and there’s having an extra gear that you rarely have to use because no one else on the field has it. Boateng falls into the latter category.

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Men of the match: Emmanuel Boateng

Goalscorers: Gordon (14′), Plata (21′), Boateng (26′, 34′)

MLS Cup Playoffs: Toronto FC 3-1 Philadelphia Union (video)

Sebastian Giovinco, Toronto FC
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The game in 100 words (or less): 10 years later, Toronto FC are MLS Cup Playoffs victors. For eight seasons, the playoffs eluded them altogether. Last year, they were one-and-done in embarrassing fashion at the hands of their local rivals. In 2016, it was  their year — a proclamation we’d heard plenty times before — and so far, they’ve lived up to the hype. Wednesday’s 3-1 home victory over the Philadelphia Union in the knockout round gets the monkey off the Reds’ back, but more importantly, afforded Sebastian Giovinco, who bagged a goal and an assist on the night (his second straight game with such a line), 90 more minutes of game time after missing more than a month through injuries as the regular season wound down. After 270 minutes of action, the Atomic Ant looks sharp as ever, and destined to terrorize New York City FC, whom TFC will face in the conference semifinals, beginning Sunday.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS Cup Playoffs preview coverage ]

Three Four moments that mattered

15′ — Atlidore feeds Giovinco for 1-0 — The first playoff goal in TFC’s 10-year history. Poor goalkeeping, ball-watching defending, terrible touches, an overhead cross, and a strike off the crossbar. There’s a lot going on here. Watch it all right here.

49′ — Osorio slams home from the corner for 2-0 — The Union have been bad at defending set pieces all season, so is it at all surprising a set-piece gaffe effectively ended their season? No, it’s not.

73′ — Bedoya puts the loose ball home for 2-1 — Speaking of failing to effectively clear a corner kick, the Union were gifted a lifeline 15 minutes before full-time.

85′ — Altidore puts it out of reach, seals it for TFC — Ken Tribbet did not have the best night a center back has ever seen. His final blunder resulted in Jozy Altidore reclaiming TFC’s two-goal lead, and ending the Union’s 2016 season.

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Men of the match: Sebastian Giovinco

Goalscorers: Giovinco (15′), Osorio (49′), Bedoya (73′), Altidore (85′)

Men In Blazers podcast: Mourinho’s Chelsea return; Bradley’s 1st point

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Rog and Davo break down Jose Mourinho’s return to Chelsea with Manchester United, another stumble for Manchester City and Bob Bradley’s first Premier League point.

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VIDEO: Altidore, Giovinco combine for TFC’s first-ever playoff goal

Sebastian Giovinco
Chris Young/The Associated Press via AP
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It’s been 10 years in the making, and Toronto FC finally have their first-ever goal in the MLS Cup Playoffs.

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After failing to qualify for the playoffs in each of their first eight seasons, 2015 saw the Reds venture into the postseason for the first time ever, only to be thumped in the knockout round, 3-0, by their 401 derby rival Montreal Impact, of all sides.

This is the year, though, or so we’ve said and been told all season long. While it remains to be seen how deep of a run TFC can muster in 2016, they’ll always have the Jozy Altidore‘s terrible first touch; Altidore’s wayward second and third touches; Altidore’s overhead cross; and Sebastian Giovinco’s strike, all of which you can watch in all its hilarity glory below.

[ MORE: Power rankings — Playoffs edition | MLS Cup predictions ]