By MARK EDWARD HORNISH
From the moment last week’s first leg ended, the LA Galaxy’s one-goal advantage against Club Tijuana felt like it wouldn’t be enough to help the Galaxy survive a second leg trip to Tijuana.
Just 56 seconds into Tuesday night’s second leg, that one-goal advantage was gone and the Galaxy were well on their way to becoming the latest MLS team to have their CONCACAF Champions League hopes ended south of the border.
Club Tijuana jumped out to a 3-0 lead after just 26 minutes, eviscerating a Galaxy defense that had few answers for the Xolos’ dynamic attack.
“Our first half play was awful right from the start” said LA Galaxy coach Bruce Arena. ”We conceded a goal in the first minute, very disappointing, and it took our team thirty minutes to get into the game.”
The Xolos erased the Galaxy’s hard-won 1st leg 1-0 advantage in less than a minute, taking the opening kickoff straight down the pitch and rifling off two quick shots before a desperate Jaime Penedo spilled a ball wide onto the foot of a lurking Jaimen Ayovi, who punched the ball home for a shocking lead.
Ayovi doubled the lead just eight minutes later, beating the Galaxy offside trap, then Penedo, who had come well off his line, again.
“This game was over in the first ten minutes, simple as that,” Keane told media after the match. “The individual mistakes that we made cost us. You can’t come to Mexico and play a team like this and expect an easy road.”
With two goals quickly in hand, the Xolos flashed quality in ample supply and began to enjoy lengthy stretches of possession. The scoreline could easily have been worse, as Christian Pellerano and Ayovi put two additional balls off the crossbar in the first half.
The Galaxy failed to produce much offense early. Landon Donovan found little joy with his occasional runs into the attacking end, and worse for the Galaxy, captain Robbie Keane was almost entirely absent, with only three touches in the first half. Their only serious threat came when Samuel beat Tijuana right back and native Texan Greg Garza in the corner, raced in on the end line, and found Sarvas alone at the top of the area. Sarvas’ hard strike was parried away by Tijuana keeper Cirilo Saucedo.
The Galaxy back line faired even worse, looked utterly befuddled throughout the first half, and it showed in the 26th minute, when a lazy attempted clearance by Leonardo was stolen by an alert Dario Benedetto, who beat an abandoned Penedo easily to give the Liga MX side a handsome 3-0 advantage heading into halftime.
The second half was torrid. The Galaxy attempted to make a game of it quickly out of the locker room, when their three DP’s combined on a perfectly-executed set piece play to give the Galaxy a vital road goal and pull them within a goal. In the 47th minute, Donovan served a direct kick across the penalty area to a charging Omar Gonzalez, who headed the ball back across the goal mouth onto the foot of an onrushing Robbie Keane to finish.
The next half hour was a lively back-and-forth affair, with both sides finding opportunities to test the opposing goalkeepers. Christian Pellerano continued to be a persistent problem for the Galaxy. He controlled midfield play all night, and stretched the Tijuana lead late with a clever chip over the head of Leonardo to spring second half sub Richard Ruiz behind the Galaxy defense. Ruiz beat Penedo low and wide to make it 4-1 and put the tie seemingly out of reach.
The Galaxy were not done, however, and in the 84th minute Donovan gained possession and raced with the ball straight down the Tijuana gut, sending Keane in with a perfectly-timed pass. Keane converted, and once again, the Galaxy had a pulse.
The Galaxy applied pressure in the closing minutes, but never could find the vital goal to win the series.
“I think that you see the difference in the leagues in nights like tonight,” Donovan said. “We’ve got about eight who are mature and know how these games are while they’ve got 20 guys who know how these games go.”
For the Galaxy, it is a bitter pill to swallow, as it is the second consecutive year that they’ve gone into a Champion’s League second leg in Mexico with a lead they could not hold.
“When you start a game like that, you know, you don’t deserve it,” continued Donovan, “we lost the game in the first twenty five minutes. We know that.
“It’s disappointing because we know what we’re capable of, we showed what we’re capable of,” Donovan said. “But we were a little naive. The game is 90 minutes long, not 45.”
Club Tijuana will await the winner of Wednesday night’s clash between MLS Cup Champions Sporting KC and Liga MX foes Cruz Azul. Sporting KC posted a 1-0 first-leg victory at home, with the second leg set for Estadio Azul in Mexico City.