Come full-time, the LA Galaxy were one goal away from the CONCACAF Champions League semifinals, a description that flatters the team’s overall performance. Conceding three goals within Tuesday’s first 23 minutes, the Galaxy gifted Club Tijuana an insurmountable lead, with two second half goals from Robbie Keane doing little to sugarcoat a disastrous defensive performance. At the final whistle, Xolos had turned around the 1-0 deficit they were handed in Carson, Calif., advancing to the semifinals with their 4-2 (4-3, agg.) win.
Detached from its details, that result looks respectable, but the first half was anything put. Tijuana striker Jaime Ayovi scored in the second minute of the game, with the team hitting the woodwork again shortly after. In the ninth minute, Ayovi put Tijuana in front overall, while Dario Benedetto doubled Xolos’ lead in the 26th minute. Before the team’s went into intermission, Greg Garza would test the woodwork once more.
While Keane was able to bring the Galaxy back to within one two int he 47th minute, Richard Ruiz restored Tijuana’s lead in the 82nd. That Keane responded three minutes later created some late drama, but Los Angeles was ultimately unable to overcome their first half collapse.
Calling a one-goal deficit after 180 minutes a collapse may seem harsh, but as Tuesday’s first half unfolded, the performance felt like the bottom had dropped out of the Galaxy’s Champions League chances. Just as in the second half of leg one, Tijuana was better in all facets of the game, but instead of a remarkable night from Jaime Penedo saving them, the Galaxy had to live with the mere mortal efforts of its goalkeeper. That meant three goals within 23 minutes as LA gave one of their worst defensive performances in recent memory.
It was a performance bad enough to make you wonder if they can compete for a title in Major League Soccer. That’s too broad a conclusion to draw from one 90-minute stretch — particularly against a team of Tijuana’s quality — but it’s still fair to consider. Given defending was a big question mark coming into the season, tonight’s collapse in an important game makes you wonder if something similar can happen in MLS. When games are most important and LA has to get wins against Real Salt Lake, Portland, and Seattle, will its defense hold up?
They have seven months to improve. In that time, they need to decide if Leonardo is a starting-caliber defender. If not, either move A.J. DeLaGarza back in or start giving minutes to Tommy Meyer or Kofi Opare. They need to decide what to do at left back, because over his first three starts, James Riley hasn’t provided answers. If LA’s question coming into the season was defense, the year’s first 270 minutes have produced at best mixed results.
Perhaps in November, the defense will be better, but looking very much like a team that just came out of preseason, the Galaxy have bowed out of the Champions League. That it happened so decisively leaves gives Bruce Arena his first challenge of the season.