The LA Galaxy wrapped up their three-game test against top European competition with a toothless loss to AC Milan on Wednesday, and they're hopeful the lessons imparted in their International Champions Cup encounters add up to something in the coming weeks and months.
They return to MLS play on Sunday, at FC Dallas, after they were outclassed for the second time in the exhibition tournament, enduring a thorough 2-0 defeat to the Italian giants in Wednesday's third-place game in Miami Gardens, Fla.
“I think we got a real lesson in how to play the game,” Galaxy coach Bruce Arena told media at Sun Life Stadium. “It was men against boys. I thought their speed of play was simply outstanding. We had no answer to anything they presented on the night. ... To see players of that caliber, like a [Mario] Balotelli, who work off the ball, defensively, and working as a unit, it was a very impressive showing by Milan. Very impressive.”
Conversely, the Galaxy were unable to find a path to Milan's net and saw costly mistakes – a poor Robbie Keane pass and inadequate defense on a throw-in – enable Balotelli's and M'Baye Niang's first-half goals.
It wasn't as lopsided as the loss six days earlier to Real Madrid, but there was little of the Galaxy that impressed in last weekend's upset of Italian champions Juventus.
“It's tough,” midfielder Pablo Mastroeni told Fox Soccer after the match. “We came off a good performance, put a lot of energy into that Juventus game. Conditions out here were pretty rough, but having said that, we were up against a pretty good opponent, and tonight I think they had the better of the game.”
That's not necessarily a bad thing. Real Madrid and AC Milan, unlike Juventus, provided pretty good glimpses of how well the game can be played. The European clubs in preseason, Landon Donovan noted, “now come here, and I think they take these games very seriously.”
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Said LA defender Omar Gonzalez: “It's a great opportunity for us, and especially our younger guys, to see that even though they're playing pro right now, there's still a long way to go. And for all of us, we've got to hold ourselves to a high standard, and they are the high standard.”
The Galaxy (10-9-3) are disappointed with the first five months of their campaign, but they're solidly in the Western Conference race, with the top eight clubs separated by just eight points. They've got a dozen MLS games to play and another four group-stage matches in the CONCACAF Champions League, and the hope is this little respite will have been valuable.
“If we can learn from these three games, it's going to help improve our team for the remaining games in Major League Soccer. That's what's important,” said Arena, who used 22 players and gave newly arrived Panamanian goalkeeper Jaime Penedo his debut in the second half. “I think we're going to see on Sunday if this tournament was such that we were able to get better as a team.”