The Galaxy hadn’t played a competitive game in nearly four months heading into Wednesday’s CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal matchup. And five of the players it started had never played with the team.
But if there was any rustiness or opening-night jitters they didn’t show, with the new-look lineup playing Mexico’s Santos Laguna to a 0-0 tie that added up to a victory for the Galaxy.
Under the Champions League format, road goals count double, meaning the Galaxy goes into Tuesday’s return leg of the two-game quarterfinal series needing a victory or a tie in which it scores a goal to advance.
“It could be worse,” Coach Bruce Arena said. “We’re going to go there Tuesday trying to win the game. And obviously a draw where we get a goal would put us through.”
For Santos Laguna Coach Luis Zubeldia, there is less wiggle room.
“With this result the series is still open,” he said in Spanish. “But we need a [victory].”
He almost got one Wednesday before a StubHub Center crowd of 18,922, more than half of whom were cheering for the Mexicans.
Santos Laguna is nearly halfway through its domestic league schedule and the Galaxy is still 10 days away from the first game of its Major League Soccer season. And that edge in fitness showed in the second half, when Santos Laguna built a huge lead in possession and had the only three shots on goal.
But although the Galaxy bent, it didn’t break.
“That’s the key when it’s a two-leg situation,” midfielder Steven Gerrard said. “If they would have scored a goal tonight, the [series] suddenly goes in their favor. The idea was to stay in tight and set us up to have a good shot at it next week.
“They know they can’t concede a goal now.”
New goalkeeper Dan Kennedy made sure the Galaxy didn’t concede one Wednesday, making two big saves in the first six minutes of the second half. The best was a sprawling stop of a Bryan Rabello shot that appeared headed for the bottom left corner.
Giovani dos Santos also came up big in the second half, blocking Jesus Molina’s volley off a corner kick at the near post. Molina begged for a hand-ball call on the play, saying Dos Santos deflected the ball with his arm. But the shot appeared to get more of the midfielder’s hip.
The Galaxy’s best chances all came in the first half, beginning in the opening minute when Jelle Van Damme headed a Dos Santos’ corner kicked toward the right post. But goalie Agustin Marchesin, diving to his left, got his left hand on the ball and deflected it wide.
“The keeper made a great save,” Arena said.
Dos Santos almost found the back of the net just before halftime, taking a pass with his back to the goal, spinning between three defenders and sending a left-footed shot toward the center of the goal that Marchesin stopped.
But although the Galaxy didn’t score, it didn’t give up a goal either. And while that’s just a tie on the scoreboard, Arena is counting it as a victory.
“For our first time out, I thought we played well,” he said. “For the most part, it was solid. We have the makings of a good team. We certainly have to get better in every area. But it’s early.”
Follow Kevin Baxter on Twitter @kbaxter11