CARSON, Calif. -- The LA Galaxy head to Mexico on even terms with Santos Laguna in the first leg of their CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal series, and they believe the advantage next week might be theirs.
A solid defensive performance carried LA in Wednesday's 0-0 draw at StubHub Center, and with so many players with experience in these kind of games -- bolstered by the preseason pickups of Dutch midfielder Nigel de Jong, English defender Ashley Cole and Belgian defender Jelle Van Damme -- they believe they can do it again.
Only next time they want to score, too.
The Galaxy nearly tallied in the opening minute and came close on a couple of other occasions and head into Tuesday's second leg in Torreon as the only MLS club with the edge after 90 minutes. It'll be tougher south of the border, of course, but the consensus is bring it on.
“We're kind of used to playing in hostile atmospheres,” captain Robbie Keane said afterward. “Certainly Tuesday is going to be no different. I think instead of usually players be worried about it, I think this team is probably relishing it.”
The Galaxy, making their season debut after a month of preseason, were better in the first half against a Santos team that has had seven Liga MX outings, and they were tight enough at the back to prevent their guests from capitalizing on two superb chances and a few more dangerous possibilities in the final 25 minutes.
“For our first time out, I thought we played pretty well,” head coach Bruce Arena said in his postgame news conference. “Not easy. It's the first time our team played 90 minutes together this year, so I was pleased with that. Defensively, we did a good job. Both teams had a couple chances -- we could have got a goal early in the game [on Van Damme's header from Giovani Dos Santos' opening-minute corner kick]; the keeper made a good save.
“I thought for the most part it was solid for a first time out.”
The Galaxy didn't concede a shot on goal until first-half stoppage time, Dan Kennedy handled everything in front of him in his debut as LA goalkeeper, and Dos Santos made a huge play at the right post in the 67th minute, stopping Jesus Molina's volley from the top of the box off a corner kick.
“I think if we had scored a goal, it would have been the perfect result, but it's still a good result,” midfielder Steven Gerrard said. “We've been banging the drum all preseason about being solid defensively and keeping clean sheets, and that's the base we can be successful from. Very pleased with the defensive side of the game, now we just need to tweak the balance to be a bit more attacking, a bit more adventurous, and, hopefully, the goals will come.
“This game is totally in the balance. It's 50-50 still.”
A draw in which goals are scored would be enough to send LA into a semifinal against Club America or the Seattle Sounders, and another 0-0 tie would lead to overtime and, perhaps, penalty kicks.
“I think we're in a good position,” Keane said. “We're a team that, if you look at the way we played today and how compact we were and how we can counterattack teams, I think that will be good for us maybe on Tuesday, and frustrate them at times. And, certainly, when they're playing at home, their fans will want them to come out and want them to play and want them to press and want them to score, and that actually might play into our hands.”
The occasion won't be too much for them.
“Believe me, I've been in more hostile situations than this, I think,” said de Jong, who has played for big clubs in four countries, along with two World Cups and two European Championships. “The experience we have in the team, especially going there -- it's not going to be easy, especially in Mexico with their fans, but we've got to trust each other and stay positive and try to go to the next round.”