BY KAYLA KNAPP
CARSON, Calif.—Injuries, illness and a busy schedule meant a mostly reserve lineup for the Los Angeles Galaxy in their Wednesday night CONCACAF Champions League match—nine of the starters were under 23, including five rookies.
But that didn’t stop the youngsters from crushing the Puerto Rico Islanders 4-0. The win gave the Galaxy another crucial three points in Group 5 of the CCL, and they now sit on top of the table with six points.
“It wasn’t like he gave the reserve team some nonsense game,” Galaxy midfielder Michael Stephens said after the match. “That was a really important game for this team and everybody stepped up tonight.”
The Galaxy goals came from Tommy Meyer, Jose Villarreal, Jack McBean and Stephens—players that don’t get many first team minutes certainly made them count tonight.
“We see it in training, we know what they’re capable of and the kind of quality some of our players have. So we’re not surprised by the performance,” Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena said. “If you asked me before the game if we expected to win 4-0, I would certainly have said no, but when you’ve get a group of players with confidence—the early goal I think was important for their confidence—and I just think they played extremely well for 90 minutes.”
Another bright moment for the Galaxy was when striker Edson Buddle made his first appearance since May 26th, replacing Pat Noonan in the 71st minute.
“It felt good, I was a little cautious, but I think through my equipment team and the medical staff, I was ready to go out there and push as hard as I can," Buddle said of his first run out in three months.
The only damper on the evening for the Galaxy was when rookie Villarreal, who has been providing a good spark for LA lately, was subbed off after taking a knock to the back of the head when he scored.
“I’m feeling fine,” Villarreal said after the game. “I tested with the doctor, and I’m feeling fine and hopefully tomorrow I train…it was just a knock in the back of the head.”
The Galaxy struck early, when Kenny Walker swung a corner kick into the box, finding Meyer on the far side. The defender headed it home, giving the Galaxy a 1-0 lead.
Just two minutes later, the Galaxy looked dangerous again when Villarreal struck a bicycle kick from the center of the box that went just wide.
The Islanders didn’t have many chances in the first half, with just one attempt on goal in the entire first 45. At halftime, it was 1-0 LA, but the Galaxy dominated most of the half.
It didn’t take long after halftime for the Galaxy to strike again.
In the 46th minute, Villarreal managed to get a shot off while trying to hold off a couple of Islanders defenders, making it 2-0 for the Galaxy.
Unfortunately for the young striker, Villarreal took a cleat to the back of the head and after being checked out on the sidelines by the trainers, had to be taken off in the 52nd minute. Sean Franklin entered the game, causing a shift in the lineup up. Hector Jimenez moved up to the wing, and Franklin took over at his usual right back position.
The Galaxy held off the Islanders for the rest of the second half, and scored a couple of security goals in the final ten minutes. McBean notched one in the 80th minute, and Stephens got his in the 82nd minute.
The Galaxy cruised for the final minutes, and kept a clean sheet to win 4-0 over the Islanders. It was not only an important win, but a rare opportunity for many of the young players to make an impression on the Galaxy staff in a match that was vital.
“We all want to show that we belong here and that whenever we get called upon we’re ready, so I thought the group was extremely, extremely well tonight in that sense,” Rafael Garcia said post-game. “We’re just looking to make the best of our opportunities…I think everyone that stepped on the field today gave 110% today.”
The Galaxy must quickly switch gears, and focus on their upcoming MLS match against the Vancouver Whitecaps on Saturday.