CARSON, Calif. – The LA Galaxy were outstanding in front of one goal Wednesday and left wanting in front of the other, but an inch this way or that way and it might have been a very different story.
As pleased as they were with their defensive performance in the 0-0 draw with Santos Laguna at StubHub Center, the Galaxy were left ruing their near misses in attack, enough of them to have, with a little more precision, provided a huge advantage heading into Tuesday's second leg, in Torreon, Mexico (10 pm ET; FS2 - US, Sportsnet World - CAN), in the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal series.
That's mostly about time. They're only a month into preparations for the new season, with nearly a dozen new faces, including some big names that will play huge roles for LA going forward. Chemistry doesn't just arrive.
“The one-twos with me and Stevie [Gerrard] and Keano [Robbie Keane] and Gio [Dos Santos] and [Gyasi] Zardes and the fullbacks, it's starting to gel slowly but slowly,” said midfielder Nigel de Jong, one of the newcomers. “You've got to understand, I think we came in with nine or 10 new guys. It's not easy to gel immediately, but I think today we did well.”
The sharpness in the final third wasn't what they'd like to see, but only one player – goalkeeper Dan Kennedy – hadn’t gone 90 minutes in any of LA's five preseason outings.
“Sharpness all over the field is going to come, there's no question ...,” said Keane, LA's captain. “Naturally, the more games you play as a group, the more fitter, the more sharper you get. You can run all day, you can do preseason for eight weeks, 10 weeks, two months – it doesn't matter. It's games that will get players back fit.”
The game turned, more or less, on three plays. The Galaxy nearly went ahead on the first, in the opening minute, when Jelle Van Damme forced a huge save from Santos goalkeeper Agustin Marchesin. Santos almost took a victory home on the other two, chances in the 67th and 78th minutes that missed by inches.
The towering Van Damme, who was very good at both ends of the field Wednesday, sharply headed a Dos Santos cross on frame after LA won a corner kick on their first foray. Marchesin dived to his left to tip the ball away, and Keane couldn't get a piece of the ball at the right post.
Van Damme said he couldn't believe that Marchesin made the save.
“I saw it go in already,” the Belgian defender said. “I didn't really know what happened, but it went fast. When I headed it, I felt it was going in, but it didn't.”
Instead, Marchesin redirected it right at Keane.
“Went through my legs,” Keane said. “[Marchesin] was laughing after. He got lucky, but that's the way it is.”
The Galaxy got lucky in the second half, when Dos Santos, manning the right post, got in the way of Jesus Molina's volley off a Nestor Calderon corner kick.
“It was close,” Kennedy said. “I don't know if it was going to hit the post. That's why we put him there, you know. He took it like a man.”
Said Dos Santos: “I was in the right spot. I just blocked the ball.”
Eleven minutes later, Carlos Izquierdoz got a slight touch on Calderon's close-range free kick, and the ball ricocheted through traffic and whizzed just past the right post a moment before Molina arrived.
That left things scoreless, and head coach Bruce Arena said there wasn't a whole lot to improve upon before the second leg. The timeline on getting things right extends well beyond these games.
“You work on just getting better every day,” he said. “Our team is not going to change much between now and Tuesday. I think in a couple months we'll see what kind of team we have. It's still very early to really evaluate too much, but I think we have the makings of a good group.”