Tijuana Coach Cesar Farias showed just how seriously he was taking the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal with the Galaxy on Tuesday when he rested seven regulars during a Liga MX match last weekend in Mexico City.
The Galaxy waited until kickoff to show what the match meant to it, giving up a pair of goals to Jaimen Ayovi in an uninspired and disastrous first nine minutes en route to a 4-2 loss in Tijuana.
“We went to the field determined to win,” said Farias, whose Xolos advance to the tournament semifinalsm, in which they will meet the Sporting Kansas City-Cruz Azul winner.
Bruce Arena’s Galaxy took the field a bit more uncertain.
“Our first-half play was awful,” said Arena, whose team has been eliminated from Champions League play by a Mexican team twice in as many years. “I don’t know how else you’d describe it.”
Tijuana attacked from the opening whistle, exposing a seemingly uninterested Galaxy backline — especially Leonardo and James Riley, both of whom wilted under the Xolos’ withering early pressure.
The Galaxy entered Tuesday leading the two-leg series 1-0 on aggregate, but Tijuana needed just 58 seconds to tie the score.
Ayovi started the sequence by sending a right-footed cross into the penalty area.
Defender A.J. De la Garza tried to clear it, but the ball ricocheted off a Tijuana player and bounced to Dario Benedetto, who stepped away from Riley and tapped the ball ahead to Ayovi at the edge of the six-yard box for the goal.
Ayovi doubled the score eight minutes later, breaking an offside trap and getting behind the confused Galaxy defense to run under a long pass, elude goalkeeper Jaime Penedo, and roll the ball into an open net.
And Tijuana wasn’t finished, with Benedetto making it 3-0 in the 26th minute after taking the ball away from a too-casual Leonardo near midfield.
The Xolos hadn’t scored three goals in a game this season — but they did it against the Galaxy is less than 30 minutes.
Sparked by De la Garza, the defense stiffened after that, allowing the Galaxy to claw its way back into the match by scoring three minutes into the second half.
The goal came on a well-designed set piece that started with Landon Donovan threading a free kick to the far post, from where Omar Gonzalez headed it back across the goal to Robbie Keane, who deflected it in.
Second-half Tijuana substitute Richard Ruiz and Keane then exchanged goals in the final seven minutes of regulation to account for the final score.
Keane’s second tally — off another assist from Donovan — gave his team late hope since one more goal would have evened the aggregate score and given the series to the Galaxy on away goals, the first CONCACAF tiebreaker.
But the Galaxy’s frantic second-half charge couldn’t overcome the team’s first-half mistakes.
“We showed a lot of character in the second half,” Keane said.
“But the individual mistakes cost us.”
Baxter reported from Los Angeles.