CARSON, Calif. – Bruce Arena's confidence in his reserves paid huge dividends Wednesday night, when the LA Galaxy grinded out a rather ugly CONCACAF Champions League victory over Isidro Metapán and, just as important, gave some needed time off to the regulars who will take on the Seattle Sounders this weekend.
The 1-0 victory at the StubHub Center has LA on the verge of another quarterfinal berth in the continental club championship, and the experience collected by an entirely reserve lineup could prove useful as they go forward.
Arena gave rare minutes to several players, a couple of them not in their usual positions, and they did enough to get the three points, thanks to an early Laurent Courtois goal, some timely defending and a lack of precision up top by Metapán.
“They did all right, they worked hard, you could see their inexperience at times,” Arena told reporters afterward. “We need to pass better, and that would be a criticism of our team tonight, but a positive is the three points and a clean sheet.
“We've played much better this year as a team and lost games. And this competition, it's about advancing, and tonight the most important aspect of this game was getting three points, and that was accomplished. So we're in good position to advance – we still have to earn a point, at least, to advance, so we've got a lot of work ahead.”
The Galaxy got important work out of captain Pablo Mastroeni, who anchored the midfield in a 4-3-3 alignment that worked into a 4-4-2 when LA were defending, from Courtois on the left flank, and from Tommy Meyer and Kofi Opare, who overcame some errors to make big plays when they were most needed.
Three regular starters – Gyasi Zardes, Juninho and Marcelo Sarvas – came on in the second half, but Robbie Keane, Leonardo and Sean Franklin never got on the field, and the other starters didn't dress. That was huge, with the Sounders showdown just three days away.
“It's huge. It's tough,” Mastroeni said. “I haven't been in the situation too often in my career where you're part of a team that has to focus on more than just one competition. You got to have players you confide in and you can put out there on a Wednesday game so the first-team guys get enough rest to really hammer out three points at the weekend.
“Our goal coming into this week was to get six points this week, and we took care of three of those, and now it's about preparing to get three [against Seattle].”
The reserves certainly weren't clinical. They created a number of chances, and tested Metapán goalkeeper Henry Hernández on several occasions, but they weren't sharp in the final third, and they needed some last-ditch defending and a couple of big plays from goalkeeper Brian Rowe to keep the Salvadorans out of their net.
“I'll tell you, it wasn't pretty,” Mastroeni said. “It was a lot of bad giveaways, a lot of bad passes. We had opportunities to really put the game away, and if it wasn't a good save, it was a missed shot. There were a lot of things we could have done differently.
“But I think there's a lot of things to take away from that game: the intangibles, the spirit of the team, the fight. The ability to play an ugly game and get a result is a lot more valuable than to play a very beautiful game and lose it.”