Arena pleased with Galaxy performance

Coach sees club respond well in biggest test of preseason to date

The Los Angeles Galaxy remained unbeaten after passing their first real
test of the preseason in a 1-0 victory over Costa Rica's Puntarenas FC
in an international friendly on Wednesday at Cal State Fullerton.

The Galaxy hadn't lost in five previous matches -- all of them
scrimmages -- and head coach Bruce Arena said he was happy to see how
his club responded in their first meaningful competition against what he
called a quality opponent.

"I think overall our guys played well," Arena said. "They really tested
us."

The Galaxy pretty much dominated the match, but Puntarenas did show some
signs of life in the second half after an opening 45 minutes in which
they did not even record one shot on goal. Galaxy goalkeeper Donovan
Ricketts came well out of the net in the 83rd minute of what was then a
scoreless tie to deny Puntarenas' Jose Macotelo his team's first real
scoring chance on a breakaway after he got behind the Los Angeles back
line.

Los Angeles finally took the lead five minutes later after a nice
combination between rookie Michael Stephens and second-year veteran
Chris Birchall resulted in Birchall scoring from just outside the
penalty area into the upper corner of the net.

"It was one of those where I felt like I had to hit the ball or else I
would get tackled by the defender," Birchall said of the play. "It was
pretty much instinct for me, and I'm just glad it went in."

The Galaxy appeared to be unlucky not to have scored to that point, but
Arena attributed his team's lack of good fortune to the quality of the
opponent.

"They defended quite well," Arena said. "They were very smart and almost
caught us for a goal in the second half. We had some chances, but
obviously at this time of year your timing is not what it should be. We
had a couple of chances we couldn't put away, but give them credit.

"It was a good game."

The Galaxy finished with 20 shots on goal to Puntarenas' six and had
their own good chances in the second half. Two of them came compliments
of second-half substitute Bryan Jordan. The first came from 22 yards in
the 65th minute -- he had come on for Eddie Lewis only a minute earlier
-- and then 15 minutes later when his 16-yarder from right in front of
the net went high over the net.

The Galaxy had even better chances in the first half and were unlucky to
go into the break without a goal or two. The game wasn't even a minute
old when third-year forward Tristan Bowen, among several players to draw
Arena's praise after the game, sent in a beautiful cross to Mike Magee,
who was right in front of the net but was high with what appeared to be
an easy header.

Bowen was at it again about 15 minutes later when his left-footed shot
from 20 yards was headed for the corner of the net but instead caromed
off the crossbar.

Puntarenas appeared to save its best for last, thanks to several
second-half substitutes, but the Galaxy weren't to be denied as they
continued preparations for the March 27 regular-season opener against
the New England Revolution.

"We're making progress," Birchall said, "but it's more pleasing we're
playing good soccer. Our passing's improved, and we're working on the
little things that Bruce has strived for. This doesn't mean anything
unless we go into the season and get some good results.

"We're playing well, and hopefully on the 27th we can get a good
result."

Larry Morgan is a contributor to MLSnet.com.