Yes, the LA Galaxy took a first-team roster to North Carolina, put most of their best players on the field, and still exited the US Open Cup for the third straight year with a defeat to the Carolina RailHawks.
MLS' World Cup break made it simple for LA to turn out something close to a first-choice lineup for Tuesday night's fifth-round clash in Cary, N.C., but it wasn't quite the boon they expected.
The Galaxy dominated the match, outshooting the RailHawks, 31-6, but they were insufficient in the final third and dropped a 1-0 overtime decision after Daniel Jackson scored on a 105th-minute breakaway.
"We had to mix and match [top-line players with reserves in losses the previous two years to Carolina, and] this was the year where we had an opportunity to bring fresher guys and more first-line guys that were able to contribute," associate head coach Dave Sarachan noted in the postgame news conference. "We still have had a layoff, so I think a few of our guys were rusty tonight, but on paper we clearly had our strongest lineup."
Captain Robbie Keane, who went the full 120 minutes in his US Open Cup debut, certainly looked rusty in his first action since the second of two friendlies with Ireland's national team two weeks earlier. He'd been to Ireland for a quick visit -- and to serve as best man in a friend's wedding -- and only returned to training at the end of last week.
Landon Donovan, who came on in the 64th minute Tuesday night and had the Galaxy's best scoring chance -- a one-on-one opportunity in the 83rd minute denied by inspired RailHawks goalkeeper Scott Goodwin -- was limited by minor, undisclosed injuries.
"They're not fit enough," Sarachan said. "I think, hopefully, this night will pay some dividends in terms of getting them ramped up for Major League Soccer coming up, because we've been off, so I think even though they're tired, I think this was a good exercise for them to get their endurance back, and hopefully we will build on that coming in to the weekend [and Saturday's California Clasico at San Jose].”
- Get more Galaxy news at LAGalaxy.com
Donovan didn't start, he said, because he "has been battling a couple of little things, and we thought it would be best to save him for a time we think we could get the most out of him in terms of minutes. We didn't think he'd go 90 or 120 minutes, so that’s the reason.”
The Galaxy return to training Thursday to begin preparing for the game against the Earthquakes (10:30 pm ET, NBCSN), and they need to recover from 120 minutes on a muggy night on the opposite coast.
"Physically is going to be the question. Physically, it'll be tough," Donovan said. "I think everyone will be disappointed, but we'll move past it quickly. So the big thing is getting ready physically so that we’re ready for Saturday.”