Galaxy's Opener Is Fantastic

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Goals by Cobi Jones and Arash Noamouz gave the Los Angeles Galaxy a 2-1 victory over the New York/New Jersey MetroStars on Saturday night in the inaugural Major League Soccer game for both teams.

Yes, yawn, so what. It was merely another soccer game, right? No one cares.

Try telling that to the 69,255 fans who packed the Rose Bowl, forcing Pasadena police to seal off the Arroyo Seco at halftime. Tickets were still being sold three minutes before the final whistle.

"They [police] were turning people away at the freeway, this was about five minutes before the first half ended," said Danny Villanueva Jr., the Galaxy's general manager. "The lines [of traffic] were still upward of two miles in length."

MLS Commissioner Doug Logan was as amazed as anyone at the turnout.

"We knew there was the potential for a crowd like this," he said, "but we did not know [if it would happen]. It's very gratifying. It's going to be a hard act to follow. Just think about it, we've outdrawn the Dodgers' opener."

The crowd, the largest ever for a non-World Cup or non-Olympic game in Los Angeles, was treated to a game that, while not technically attractive, at least had its moments.

One of those was Jones' goal, a shot from close range in the 37th minute that beat his former World Cup '94 teammate, MetroStar goalkeeper Tony Meola. It was set up by striker Eduardo Hurtado's through pass.

"I saw the opening on the right," Jones said. "Hurtado played a nice pass. I touched the ball and cut in front of him [defender Nicola Caricola]. I was either going to get past him or felt he would take me down in the box [earning a penalty kick]."

The crowd, somewhat tense during the first 30 minutes while waiting for the Galaxy to produce some fireworks, erupted. From then on, the evening took off.

"It was like memories of the World Cup," Jones said.

El Salvador's Mauricio Cienfuegos was all over the field, working nonstop to set up opportunities. Hurtado constantly threatened to score, but could have been helped a bit more by his midfielders.

And Jorge Campos, who decided he would be happier starting his Galaxy career in the nets rather than at forward, was his usual entertaining self. Wearing a bright yellow top and lime green shorts, Campos made several spectacular saves and on one occasion dribbled the ball out beyond the halfway line, to the fans' delight.

He even had a hand in the Galaxy's second goal, in the 56th minute. He threw the ball out to defender Noamouz, then watched as Noamouz dribbled through the MetroStars' porous defense and fired the ball into the left corner as Meola dived the other way.

New York got a goal in the 75th minute from Venezuela's Giovanni Savarese, but couldn't manage the equalizer.

"We were missing four of our top players [including Roberto Donadoni of Italy and Tab Ramos of the United States]," said Coach Eddie Firmani, "so I thought we did quite well with two-thirds of a team."

Galaxy Coach Lothar Osiander, grinning broadly, summed up the game by saying he thought his team could and should have scored more.

"Once we get our understanding of each other, we'll become better and better," he said. "We missed a few sitters [easy scoring chances]. I think we'll be able to score more as the season develops."

The fans at times were so loud that the coaches had a difficult time making themselves heard from the sideline.

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Soccer Notes

U.S. Soccer Federation President Alan Rothenberg on Saturday was elected to CONCACAF's five-member executive committee, becoming the first American to serve on the board of the confederation that oversees the sport in North and Central America and the Caribbean. Also elected at CONCACAF's 20th annual meeting, in Guadalajara, Mexico, were Daniel Bali Castillo of Honduras, Jose Antonio Garcia of Mexico, Rafael Salguero of Guatemala and Isaac Sasso of Costa Rica. . . . CONCACAF President Jack Warner of Trinidad and Tobago announced that Anguilla and the British Virgin Islands had become members, bringing CONCACAF's membership to 38 nations. . . . Eric Wynalda, the San Jose Clash and U.S. national team striker who scored the first goal in MLS history April 6, is being inundated by offers from European teams but said he is committed to staying in the United States. . . . The Dallas Burn's home opener against the Clash today at noon will be the first of 26 MLS games carried live by Univision, the Spanish-language network. Andres Cantor and Norberto Longo will provide the commentary.

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The Count

A look at attendance for MLS games Saturday:

* At Rose Bowl: 69,255

* At Tampa Bay, Fla.: 26,473

* At Columbus, Ohio: 25,266

* At Kansas City, Mo.: 21,141

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