CARSON, Calif. – Sunday afternoon's LA Galaxy-FC Dallas showdown appeared to be headed for 0-0, thanks to outstanding defensive performances on both sides, especially by superb center-back pairings that repeatedly closed off space, cut off passing angles and stripped the ball from attackers.
It took one special play to turn things LA's way, and they're coming to expect that from Jose Villarreal (above, right).
The Homegrown forward, two weeks shy of his 19th birthday, came off the bench to spark the Galaxy to a 2-0 triumph in the critical Western Conference showdown, stripping the ball from fellow rookie Matt Hedges and feeding Juninho for the go-ahead goal in the 66th minute.
GOAL: Villarreal does well to set up Juninho
Villarreal, who had come on for Hector Jimenez in the 59th minute, stepped into the ball as Hedges attempted to pass forward, maneuvered past onrushing goalkeeper Kevin Hartman on the left side of the Dallas box, then calmly slotted the ball for Juninho, who scored his fifth goal in the last four competitive games.
“He's crafty, he's a gamer and he's a young kid that doesn't know any better, and that's great because he's confident and he's playing well and he's dangerous,” said defender Todd Dunivant, who netted the second goal in the 84th minute. “He's holding the ball up, not just doing the obvious things, like scoring goals. He's doing the little things, and that's huge for us.”
He made the difference against Dallas, much like he did in a 2-2 draw July 18 at Vancouver, when he scored a splendid 87th-minute equalizer as LA fought back from a two-goal deficit.
“He came in with a lot of energy,” Juninho. “He's proven right now that he's a kid that has a lot of talent, and he came in, changed the game a little bit, and thank God I was in the right position to score that goal.”
Hedges had been superb as Dallas' defense repeatedly repelled the Galaxy attack, preventing them from turning their possession into legitimate scoring chances. LA tested Hartman three times in the first 10 minutes, then managed nearly nothing dangerous until Villarreal came onto the field.
“He's very active,” Dallas coach Schellas Hyndman said. “He's got a desire to get forward. They've got him playing, I think, a little bit more simple, and he brought a lot of energy.”
Villarreal said Hedges “was caught sleeping, and I managed to pressure him pretty hard, and it bounced off my foot, and I took a touch right by the keeper, and I saw Juninho in the open” – he made it all sound so simple.
“It's kind of natural, as a forward,” he said.
He says his knack for prodding good things off the bench is natural, too.
“It's no secret,” Villarreal said. “Just working hard every day in practice, and when Bruce [Arena] gives me the chance to play, just do my thing and try to help out as much as possible.”