TIJUANA, Mexico — All of the hard work from the first leg evaporated inside the first two minutes. Two more goals by Club Tijuana inside the opening half-hour turned this night of possibility into a nightmare for LA Galaxy. The eventual 4-2 defeat at Estadio Caliente and the 4-3 aggregate exit left the Galaxy to wonder how this excursion might have unfolded with a bit more care inside the opening stages of the match and whether they hastened their own CONCACAF Champions League demise.
A poor start erased the Galaxy’s first-leg advantage within mere seconds and placed them in the unenviable position of trying to chase the game on Mexican soil. The disaster started with a failure to clear the lines inside the first minute. There were chances to squash the danger before Dario Benedetto wriggled free and wrenched his way into a spot to force a tackle. Jamie Ayovi gleefully lashed home to place the tie on level terms.
Tijuana acquired control on aggregate shortly thereafter as a ball over the top completely caught out the Galaxy rearguard. Avoyi managed to elude the offside flag and latch onto the feed. Jaime Penedo rushed out to block, but Ayovi eluded his rush and simply tapped into the vacated net to double the Xolos’ advantage on the night.
It somehow got worse for the Galaxy after 26 minutes when the perpetually threatening Benedetto made it three. Leonardo failed to deal with a simple clip over the top and permitted Benedetto to take the ball off his foot. Benedetto – restricted to a second-half appearance in the first leg with an Achilles complaint – promptly dispatched the opportunity inside the far post to increase the magnitude of the task.
The visitors eventually settled into the game after the third and started to pose some questions in front of goal. Marcelo Sarvas squandered a presentable opportunity shortly before the interval to give the Galaxy a lift heading the break.
Galaxy boss Bruce Arena made a double switch at the break in a bid to spark his side to life. The alterations worked as the Galaxy soon found themselves one goal away from going through when the three Designated Players combined to create a lifeline.
Landon Donovan curled an inviting free kick toward the back post to create havoc inside the Xolos’ area. Omar Gonzalez rose highest at the back stick to nod down toward the back post. Keane rushed to the spot and struck home to give his side hope of a semifinal place.
The pace of play dropped considerably after this point with Tijuana managing its lead carefully. Tijuana sparked to life inside the final 10 minutes to claim a precious fourth. Cristian Pellerano clipped a tidy ball toward front line. Benedetto flicked over the Galaxy line toward the onrushing Richard Ruiz. The second-half substitute thumped his effort inside the far post to restore the cushion nine minutes from time.
Donovan and Keane conspired to reduce the deficit once more after the Galaxy played quickly through midfield. Donovan slid an inch-perfect pass through the Xolos line after Keane created a yard of space for himself. Keane collected and then coolly slotted home his second of the night to set up a grandstand finish.
The visitors pumped ball after ball toward the Tijuana penalty area. Keane hit a volley over the bar off a Friend knockdown. And Tijuana mustered once last clearance moments to prompt the final whistle and send the Xolos through to a semifinal against Cruz Azul or Sporting Kansas CIty.