The LA Galaxy certainly were disappointed to fall for the second straight year to the Carolina RailHawks in the US Open Cup, but they managed to frame Wednesday night's 2-0 defeat in Cary, N.C., in positive terms.
The Galaxy fielded a reserve lineup featuring only six players who have seen significant or increasing first-team minutes – Jose Villarreal up top, Michael Stephens on the right side of midfield, and Hector Jimenez, Tommy Meyer, Leonardo and rookie Greg Cochrane across the backline – and reserve-team coach Curt Onalfo, who guided the team in the third-round contest, said the experience would be good for the younger players.
“We're the busiest team in MLS, so we have to utilize our whole roster,” Onalfo told media after the match at WakeMed Soccer Park. “We have reserve games where we have to utilize our roster, and we have US Open Cup games, where for our organization, that's a time for our younger players to get minutes, and it's valuable minutes.
“If you look at Carolina, they're a very good team [with] a lot of experienced guys, and they're a dangerous team," he added. "When you're playing against a good team, those are valuable minutes for these players. I'm disappointed we lost, but at the end of the day, my job is to move these guys forward so they can step into the first team whenever possible and do a great job and continue to evolve. From that standpoint, I think we learned a valuable lesson today.”
Onalfo gave minutes to six first-year Galaxy players, including veterans Colin Clark and, making just his second appearance, Robbie Rogers. LA put together a decent possession game between the boxes but struggled to penetrate in the final third, and the RailHawks' dynamic attack caused problems in the back.
Carolina scored goals two minutes apart – by Austin da Luz in the 59th minute and Brian Shriver in the 61st – with fast, heady play on the flanks, and the Galaxy weren't sharp enough to turn things around. Villarreal had a strong chance in the 23rd minute, but he fired wide from Jimenez's feed, and LA's other genuine chances – both by Gyasi Zardes, a weak shot in the 71st and a failed header in the 86th – were no-hopers.
“We lost our concentration for a good five minutes, and this one hurts a little bit just because we were really looking to bounce back from last year [a 2-1 third-round loss to the RailHawks] and get a victory,” midfielder Rafael Garcia said. “But credit to them. They did a good job in those five minutes that we put our head down.
"End of the day, there's no excuses. We emphasized that this is a big game for us and a big opportunity for a lot of guys, and I feel like we kind of let Bruce [Arena] and the coaches down. There's no excuse. Maybe it wasn't our day, but at the end of the day, we've got to be sharper. If we put away our chances, I think we'll win the game.”
Scott French covers the LA Galaxy for MLSsoccer.com.