CARSON, Calif. – The LA Galaxy take a slim advantage to Mexico next week as they seek a semifinal berth in the CONCACAF Champions League for the second straight season.
Samuel scored in the 11th minute, his first with his new team, and Jaime Penedo and Marcelo Sarvas made goal-line stops as the Galaxy held off Club Tijuana, 1-0, Wednesday night at StubHub Center in the first leg of a quarterfinal series.
The Galaxy struck early, stringing together eight passes after Joe Corona stumbled over the ball at midfield and Sarvas snared the loose ball. Sarvas had the pivotal feed, chipping into the box from the right flank, and the ball ricocheted square off Robbie Keane's midsection – slipping past Javier Gandolfi – to leave Samuel a simple one-time finish from about 10 yards.
LA had the better of play in the first half and created a decent chance just before halftime, with Keane carrying the ball to the right byline and chipping onto the roof of the goal.
The Xolos, playing in their first Champions League, played with greater urgency in the second half and created several chances, most from set pieces. Penedo made two big stops, on Hernán Pellerano's header in the 52nd minute and ahead of Gandolfi in the 55th – both were flagged offside – then a minute later tipped Christian Pellerano's shot from distance over the crossbar, a save that counted.
The Panamanian goalkeeper made an even bigger save in the 61st. He mistimed his leap on a Benedetto cross from the right wing, redirecting it into the middle. The ball ricocheted off Omar Gonzalez's foot, with an attacker on his back, and rolled slowly toward the net. Penedo scrambled back to his goal line and palmed the ball, shuttling it out of immediate danger.
Sarvas cleared a Gandolfi header off a corner kick at the right post in the 68th minute; Gomez nearly pulled Tijuana even in the 85th, his sharp diving header from Garza's cross sailing wide of the left post; and Penedo pushed a stoppage-time shot from Benedetto past the right post.
A draw or a one-goal Xolos victory in which the Galaxy scores would send LA to a semifinal matchup against reigning MLS Cup champion Sporting Kansas City or Cruz Azul. Sporting won the home leg, 1-0, Wednesday in their quarterfinal series.
The Galaxy are 9-3-0 at home, and 2-1-0 at home against Mexican opposition, since the Champions League era began in 2008. They are 2-3-0 in all CCL games against Mexican clubs and 2-6-1 against Mexican teams with Champions' Cup results factored in.
LA have this weekend off in MLS to prepare for the second game of the series. Tijuana play Saturday in Mexico City against Cruz Azul, then return home for the March 18 second leg at Estadio Caliente.