Monterrey taught LA Galaxy the lessons put into practice in the 1-0 victory over Club Tijuana on Wednesday night. The three-time champions offered the Galaxy a harsh reminder of the exacting standards imposed by the CONCACAF Champions League at the semifinal stage last year. Comfort equals exposure, particularly on home soil. And the Galaxy learned that fact all too painfully a year ago after a 1-0 advantage turned into a 2-1 first-leg defeat to the eventual winners.
Recent arrival Samuel handed the Galaxy a chance to atone for those errors by slotting home inside the opening quarter of an hour in this quarterfinal tie. His early goal – an opportunity created by an inviting Marcelo Sarvas service, some slack defending and a sloppy touch Robbie Keane barely claimed as his own – provided the Galaxy with a deserved foothold to weather the inevitable second-half storm.
“I think that was important,” Keane said. “We mentioned before the game that if we get the lead, we have to be clever and take it if it’s 1-0. Of course, we wanted to get the second goal, but we were limited to our chances.”
Instead of buckling in those circumstances as they did in the last edition of this competition, the Galaxy maintained their shape and sidestepped some fraught moments to maintain a narrow lead. The fluidity of the opening half quickly disappeared as Tijuana recovered from an abject opening stanza to pose a serious and protracted threat to nick an away goal.
Only the continued defiance of Jaime Penedo and the resolute shape of Galaxy rearguard prevented the Xolos from claiming it. Penedo pushed Cristian Pellerano’s stinging effort over the bar and scrambled away a deflection as it trickled near the goal line during his second-half heroics. Sarvas turned away a goalbound header from Javier Gandolfi to protect the slender edge, too.
LA Galaxy held out in the second half to take a narrow one-goal advantage to Estadio Caliente on Tuesday.
The home side’s resistance left Tijuana boss César Farias to lament the Xolos’ fate at the end of the night and wonder whether the expanded presence of Dario Benedetto – consigned to the second half as a result of an Achilles complaint – might have altered it.
“Today, we played the first 90 minutes of a 180-minute series,” Farias said through a translator. “In the first half, we didn’t play well. We made a mistake that cost us a goal. In the second half, I think we should have had more fortune. The goalkeeper saved two balls off the goal line. Now, we’re going home where we are very strong. This is not the ideal result for us, but it’s not a bad result. I think we can overturn the result in Tijuana.”
Muted reactions from the home side reflected the appreciation for the work completed and the magnitude of the task ahead. Another goal at some point during the bright first half would have made the journey south a touch more comfortable. It never arrived. The solace comes from Tijuana’s inability to procure its own riposte, a potentially fatal blow capable of transforming the tie ahead of the return leg at Estadio Caliente on Tuesday.
“It’ll be difficult,” Galaxy manager Bruce Arena said. “Obviously, another goal would have benefited our team, but it’s still nice going there with an advantage. Not giving up an away goal is important. We’re well aware of the fact that Tuesday will be a difficult game. We’ll be ready.”
Their organized and ultimately successful first-leg display justified those beliefs. The instructive experiences of a year ago spurred the Galaxy to this result. They must now build upon their hard-earned foundations to secure safe passage through Tijuana and into the semifinals next week.