The LA Galaxy's wounded list was longer than expected, four in all, but it provided them an opportunity to show off several of their youngsters Saturday night at Real Salt Lake, and every one of them stepped up like the veterans they replaced.
Goalkeeper Brian Rowe made seven saves, the first of them a stunning stop, and fellow debutant Charlie Rugg scored a fine goal as the Galaxy struck twice in the first 13 minutes, then bunkered effectively to hold on for a 2-0 triumph at Rio Tinto Stadium despite the absences of Robbie Keane, Landon Donovan, Todd Dunivant and Carlo Cudicini.
“We had confidence in the group,” head coach Bruce Arena said on the Galaxy's postgame show. “Our young goalkeeper was fabulous tonight -- Brian Rowe was outstanding. For the young player Rugg to get a goal. ... A lot of players in their first MLS games, playing in a difficult venue, [were instrumental] in getting a tremendous result, so we're real pleased.”
Keane, who is bothered by a sprained left ankle, and Donovan, who suffered a leg strain in last week's win over Sporting Kansas City, weren't expected to play, but there had been no word on the conditions of Dunivant and Cudicini, who also are dealing with leg strains. Arena paired Rugg with teen Jack McBean up top, gave rookie Greg Cochrane his second start at left back, called on the relatively inexperienced Hector Jimenez for the right flank, and gave Rowe -- ostensibly the club's No. 3 netminder -- his first MLS action.
All of them were solid. McBean was superb before departing with a fractured left clavicle early in the second half that came after a collision with Nat Borchers and he teamed with Jimenez to set up Rugg's goal in the 13th minute. Cochrane's pinpoint crossing from the left nearly led to two more first-half goals. Rookie Gyasi Zardes, who made his debut when McBean went down, was a handful in the latter stages and niftily set up Jimenez for a shot off the post with about 15 minutes to go.
Rowe and Rugg were best of all.
“[Rowe was] outstanding. There's no other way to put it,” Arena told media. “He looked composed from the start, had a good save early, had great concentration, made a bunch of saves. Charlie, good job. ... A good first goal, a good first game. We're real pleased to get a goal in his first game. You can't complain about that. For Rowe to get a shutout in his first game, on the road in Salt Lake, you can't complain about that either.”
OPTA Chalkboard: Brian Rowe delivers solid performance in pro debut
Rowe said he felt “natural” after making a spectacular leaping save of Joao Plata's rising blast moments after Mike Magee provided a sixth-minute lead.
“It was nice getting those two goals to get a little comfortable lead,” Rowe said, "and then the first save I made just helped me ease into it a bit and get comfortable.”
Rugg said he was ready for real action.
“I was just trying to do my job,” he said. “I wasn't trying to do anything amazing today, but getting the goal was just a bonus.”
Magee said the Galaxy expects its young players to do the job.
“Over the years, we've grown accustomed to doing things like this,” he said. “A lot of teams' mentality changes and guys kind of lose confidence in each other, and our team adapts to it. Rowe was definitely the best player on the field, and Charlie probably made the difference with that goal.”