Arena thrilled young core gets taste of their own hardware
TUCSON, Ariz. – It may just be a preseason title, but Todd Dunivant was beaming ear to ear on Saturday night after the LA Galaxy’s penalty-shootout victory over the New England Revolution in the Desert Diamond Cup championship match.
“One-win championship,” he joked – mostly – to MLSsoccer.com.
It’s true, the defending MLS Cup champs won just one game in this tournament – their second match against Real Salt Lake last week.
But Dunivant was quick to point out the young, reserve-laden group that emerged victorious in that match was mostly the same unit Bruce Arena fielded for Saturday’s final as most of the first-teamers returned to Los Angeles to prepare for next week’s crucial CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal first leg in Toronto.
“You’ve got to give a lot of credit to this group,” continued the veteran left back, who wore the captain's armband on Saturday, “and tonight, we fought and had plenty of chances and gutted out a win.”
Arena’s starting lineup included seven players 24 or younger, including Home Grown striker Jack McBean (17 years old), midfielder Michael Stephens (22), penalty-shootout hero Brian Perk (22) and the extremely green center back pairing of 2012 draftees Tommy Meyer and Bryan Gaul (21 and 22, respectively).
In fact, at one point in the second half, 30-year-old Marcelo Sarvas was the only player on the field older than 23.
“The story tonight was our young kids playing well, getting challenged in a game with a good crowd and a little bit of a pressure setting,” Arena told reporters after the match, “and I thought that was real positive.”
Particularly encouraging was the play of Meyer and Gaul, both of whom will need to step up big given the Galaxy’s injury problems in central defense. Both rookies played generally solid against New England, will be called upon often by Arena during a long season that includes both the current Champions League run as well as the 2012-13 tournament.
And though the Desert Diamond Cup may not compare to the Galaxy’s MLS Cup and back-to-back Supporters’ Shields, Arena believes the experience here in Arizona will be hugely beneficial to his young nucleus.
“It’s real good any time players are put in a competition where they’re playing for a trophy, whether it’s in the preseason or whatever,” Arena said of his youngsters. “You want to see how they respond to that kind of pressure, how they receive that pressure, how they deal with it. I think our young kids did surprisingly well tonight.”
HIGHLIGHTS: LA beat New England in penalties