CARSON, Calif. – Omar Gonzalez gave the LA Galaxy the goal they needed Wednesday night, but their victory over Herediano – and passage to the CONCACAF Champions League semifinals – was in no way certain until one of their teens provided a little bit of magic.
Nobody in white was surprised when Jose Villarreal, making his first appearance since returning from the CONCACAF U-20 Championship, scored a beauty of a second goal to give LA the cushion they required to reach the final four.
The Galaxy went on to score two more in a 4-1 triumph that sets up a showdown with two-time defending champions Monterrey.
Villarreal's 69th-minute strike, a blistering left-footer after he pirouetted to lose a defender, meant that Herediano would need more than a goal to sneak into the semis on away goals, something that was certainly on the Galaxy's minds.
“Jose's, that was massive,” said Mike Magee, who moved into his customary spot on the left side of midfield as Villarreal stepped in next to Robbie Keane up front. “Had they got a goal at any point [with the score 1-0], they would have gone through, so when he scored that, it was definitely relief. That finish was class.”
Villarreal has done it before. His goal, just as nice, last July in Vancouver gave the Galaxy a needed draw just as they were starting to rise in the West, and he found the net in a Champions League group-stage win over Puerto Rico about a month later. He had missed most of preseason and the first week or so of the regular season while starring for the US U-20 side, scoring three goals, but stepped into the lineup looking like he hadn't missed a moment.
“It’s no secret why he came into the lineup tonight,” defender Todd Dunivant said. “He’s on fire, and he’s going to be a big player for us this year. He came right back in, and he didn’t miss a beat after coming back. He was a leader on that team, and he brought that confidence here with us.”
Villarreal said his first instinct was to try to bull past Herediano's Esteban Granados and Pablo Salazar into the box, but “I didn't have any more legs. I was just tired, so I cut it back and set it up for my left foot.”
The Galaxy knew it was over when he scored, “which probably isn't the best,” Magee said. “We were still playing hard, but there was definitely that feeling that if we could get two, we'd be kind of cruising. That goal was everything.”
Said Villarreal: “I was just happy to get that goal. It was my first shot of the game. ... I was running up and down the field, and I was hoping to get one chance, and I'm glad I put it in.”
His teammates expected nothing less.
“He's got a bright future,” defender A.J. DeLaGarza said. “He's got an amazing left foot, so when you give him space -- we saw in Vancouver last year the same kind of play, he kind of turned on his left foot and swung it in there. It was nice.”