CARSON, Calif. — The LA Galaxy showed off their depth in Wednesday night's CONCACAF Champions League victory over the Puerto Rico Islanders, romping to a 4-0 triumph while fielding what amounted to their reserve team.
Ten of the 11 LA starters on that night have played more in Major League Soccer's Reserve League than with the first team, and the 11th, winger Hector Jimenez, also has seen substantial reserve action. It was their prowess in those games that gave Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena and his staff the confidence to send them out in a must-win game.
“[These guys] have played well in reserve games and they train every day against a pretty good group of players,” Arena said after the Galaxy completed their home portion in Group 5 with a maximum six points. “We see it in training, we know what they're capable of and the kind of qualities some of our players have, so we're not surprised by the performance.”
LA was in charge from start to finish, going ahead in the seventh minute on a header by defender Tommy Meyer, dictating terms with big contributions from midfielders Rafael Garcia and Kenney Walker, getting a marvelous goal from Jose Villarreal at the outset of the second half, then netting an emphatic third from Jack McBean.
All above but McBean are rookies, and they all were among nine players 23 or younger in the starting XI.
“We've been playing together the whole year, and throughout the reserve league we've done well, and that's part of the reason we got the opportunity tonight,” said third-year midfielder Michael Stephens, at 23 the longest-serving player in the lineup. “It was a really important game. It wasn't like [Arena] gave the reserve team some nonsense game. That was a really important game for this team.”
There was good chemistry up front with Villarreal and McBean, who also have played together in the Galaxy Academy — “It's always good playing with a really skillful guy I can lay the ball off to,” McBean noted — and Meyer and veteran Andrew Boyens locked things down in the back, limiting the Islanders to just two shots on target.
“We all want to show that we belong here and that whenever we get called upon, we’re ready,” Garcia said. “So I thought the group [did] extremely, extremely well tonight in that sense. We’re just looking to make the best of our opportunities.”
Arena says he was confident in this group, which leads the Western Division reserve standings with a 4-2-1 record, would get the job done, that “that's the reason they played tonight, because we thought they could beat this team.” He was pleased with how his youngsters took on the responsibility in a must-win game, and so were they.
“There's pride [in what we did],” Villarreal said. “But we just have to focus and not let that get in our way, because we've been playing in the Reserve League. We just have to keep playing the way we are, and when Bruce tells us to come and play, we just have to do what we did tonight.”