CARSON, Calif. – The LA Galaxy targeted Rob Friend because he could add a dimension missing from their game. They saw it work firsthand for the first time Tuesday.
The 6-foot-5 Canadian forward's entrance at halftime in LA's CONCACAF Champions League clash at Club Tijuana triggered a direct approach that gave the Galaxy life, spawned a quick goal that provided some hope and ultimately demonstrated how much more dangerous their attack could be this year.
“Last year in particular we were very much one-dimensional, in that we had to play through the midfield and we had to keep the ball on the ground more often,” Landon Donovan said. “Now we have a more viable outlet.”
Friend, 33, who saw about 25 minutes in the Galaxy's opening-day loss to Real Salt Lake, showed his worth right away against Tijuana, drawing a foul just outside the box that led to the first of two Robbie Keane goals and gave LA hope until the finish of the Xolos' 4-2 victory.
It was Friend's first extended action in weeks, after his preseason was knocked off course by a couple of minor injuries.
“It was nice to just get out there and get a run out,” said Friend, who joined the Galaxy in January after 11 years in Europe, mostly Germany. “I think the guys know how I play, what I can bring to the field, and I think that's an advantage for a team like us. We have a lot of very good individual, skillful players. I think what's been missing is a little bit of bite, and I'm going to try to bring that every time I'm on the field.
“Just because we're the best team on paper doesn't mean anything. We need a little bit more scrappiness, a little more bite to get results in this league. And I'm going to try to bring a little bit extra fight on the field.”
He brought it in Tijuana. The Galaxy, embarrassed by the inadequacy of their first-half performance, battled in earnest after halftime, with Friend the signature piece for balls pumped into and around the Xolos' box.
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“Rob did a great job when he came into the game,” Donovan said. “Samuel's been a handful and done a good job, but that game called for something different. And Rob gave us something that we haven't had here in a long time. He's difficult to play against, he competes well, he holds the ball well, he draws fouls and he's dangerous in the box and all those things can help you a lot.”
“He's fantastic,” defender Todd Dunivant said. “… I mean, you can throw the ball up to him and he's either going to knock it down or the defender's not going to get a good clearance on the ball. One or the other, and either way favors us.”
Friend hopes he can make an impact again Saturday when the Galaxy visit Real Salt Lake (4 pm ET; NBCSN). He's with LA to fill a particular role, but he doesn't want that to define him.
“I came here not to be a role player,” he said. “I came to be a big part of the team, and I came here to win. Obviously, it depends a lot how the team wants to play and how the coach wants to play. But when I get on the field, I have to show everyone what I can do. It's up to me, and I'm ready for that and confident enough that I can do what I've done. If I get the chance, I’m going to do everything I can to help the team win.”