Teen striker Jack McBean provided two leads and Michael Stephens netted a late winner as the LA Galaxy got what they needed on Thursday night, a 3-2 triumph at Isidro Metapán that secured the No. 4 seed for the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals.
McBean scored with a header in off the crossbar in the 38th minute and a close-range finish following a free kick in the 62nd, though LA could not keep those advantages. But Stephens got in front of defender Omar Mejía to hit the net after Pat Noonan chipped off the right post in the 80th minute, a goal that sent the Galaxy to a March 2013 quarterfinal meeting with Costa Rican club Herediano.
Nicolás Muñoz set up one goal and scored a sensational second in a superb second-half performance as Metapán twice rallied from deficits at Estadio Jorge “Calero” Suárez. Without Stephens' winner, LA would have dropped to the No. 6 seed and faced an assignment against Major League Soccer rivals Seattle, who will instead face Mexican power UANL Tigres.
It was McBean's first two-goal game for LA's first team – he netted a pair in an MLS Reserve League victory over Vancouver two weeks ago – and his second and third in two CCL appearances this season. Stephens' goal was his second of the competition.
The Galaxy (3-0-1), who clinched the Group 5 title a month ago, brought just 15 players – nearly all of them from their reserve team – and were limited to 14 by forward Jose Villarreal's hip pointer. Despite going in shorthanded, they weathered an often frenzied second-half push by the fresher Salvadorans behind a strong effort from goalkeeper Brian Perk.
McBean provided the first lead after Milton Molina failed to shut down Bryan Gaul just to the left of the box and McBean was left alone to nod the cross at the near post. He put it over goalkeeper Fidel Mondragón, off the crossbar, and just over the goal line.
Paalo Suárez nearly tied in four minutes later, beating Kenney Walker inside the box and chipping over goalkeeper Brian Perk and off the crossbar.
Stephens appeared to score a second goal in the 45th, knocking in the rebound after Mondragón's diving save of a Walker free kick, but it was waved off because the keeper had his hand atop the ball when Stephens arrived.
Suárez did eventually score, pulling Metapán (1-3-0) even 10 minutes into the second half after Muñoz beat Andrew Boyens on the right and cut the ball back into the middle. Hector Jiménez didn't react, and Suárez's shot, which Perk appeared to have covered, ricocheted in off right back Bryan Jordan.
McBean got his second seven minutes later. Marcelo Sarvas, who replaced Jordan in the 60th minute, chipped a free kick to Gaul on the left side of Metapán's box. His header through the goalmouth got past Noonan, but an unmarked McBean left-footed it home.
Muñoz tied it up again in the 67th with a free kick to the left of the box that he hammered past Perk at the near post, but Stephens' tally 13 minutes later gave LA the points.
The Galaxy wrap up their MLS regular-season campaign at home on Sunday against Seattle, then kick off the 2012 postseason next Thursday by hosting Vancouver in the Western Conference Knockout Round game.
MLSsoccer.com Men of the Match
|Rank||Player||What We Saw|
|1||Jack McBean||17-year-old striker troubled the home side all game long with his movement and effort, grabbing two deserved goals|
|2||Nicolás Muñoz||On the flipside, the Panamanian striker scored a brilliant free kick, while his speed and clever play were there for all to see|
|3||Pat Noonan||Easily the veteran of the side Bruce Arena fielded, stepped up in his leadership role, directed the attack and played an intelligent game|