Turning Points of 2012: Reserves cruise past Puerto Rico in Champions League

Youth-laden squad smashes Puerto Rico in CCL en route to Quarterfinals berth

Over the next seven days, LAGalaxy.com will look back at the seven turning points during the 2012 season that led to the Galaxy winning their second straight MLS Cup championship.

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The LA Galaxy entered the CONCACAF Champions League as a team in the midst of a turnaround in league play. Their early season malaise seemed to be in the past as they began to rise up the Western Conference standings, however, the CCL represented another hurdle for the Galaxy to overcome.

Looking Back: CCL games 1 & 2

In the club’s first match in Group 5, head coach Bruce Arena opted for a team heavy in first team players, who, despite falling behind 1-0, decimated Salvadoran side Isidro Metapán 5-2 on Aug. 23. When the Galaxy took on the pesky Puerto Rico Islanders—who knocked the Galaxy out of the CCL in 2010 in the preliminary round—in their third match in seven days on Aug. 29, Arena trotted out a squad with a distinctly youthful bent.

All 11 players selected had seen substantial Reserve League time with only one—Hector Jimenez—having more first team minutes than Reserve League minutes. The impressive statistics didn’t end there as nine players were under the age of 23 while their forward line of Jack McBean and Jose Villarreal was below the legal drinking age.

Postgame: Tommy Meyer

Despite their age, LA’s reserve-laden squad rose to the occasion from the opening whistle.

The Galaxy jumped out in front within seven minutes as rookie defender Tommy Meyer smashed a header past Puerto Rico goalkeeper Richard Martin. As the Islanders attempted to claw back into the match, LA’s central midfield pairing of rookies Rafael Garcia and Kenney Walker bossed the midfield, overwhelming the Islanders’ veterans.

LA put the match on ice in the second half as Homegrown forwards Villarreal and McBean showed the chemistry that made them an electric pairing at the Academy level. In the first minute of the second half, Jimenez sent a long ball in the direction of McBean, who flicked it towards Villarreal. With the ball at his feet, Villarreal dribbled past two Puerto Rico defenders and Martin before burying a shot from 18 yards out. [watch above]

McBean tallied a goal of his own in the 80th minute as he scooped up his own rebound after his initial shot off a Michael Stephens cross bounced off defender Richard Martinez. LA added a fourth for good measure in the 82nd when Stephens capitalized on an Islanders’ turnover. [watch above]

Their stellar performance in the back of his mind, Arena entrusted his young charges to take LA to the CCL quarterfinals. A similar lineup was trotted out on Sept. 19 as LA all but assured themselves of a spot in the next round with a scoreless draw against the Islanders in Puerto Rico.  But they received their true CONCACAF test on Oct. 25 when the youth-laden side traveled to El Salvador to Isidro Metapán.

The trip was an arduous one from the start as the Galaxy traveled for nearly two hours by bus from San Salvador to the small town of Metapán and the Estadio Jorge Calero Suarez.  When the match began, McBean handled much of the heavy lifting as he troubled the Metapán defense trading a pair of goals with Metapán’s Pablo Suarez and Nicolas Muñoz to leave the score tied at 2-2.  With the game drawing to a close and the Galaxy in need of the full three points to guarantee the No. 4 seed in the quarterfinals, it was Stephens who saved the day with his game-winning goal in the 80th minute to seal a 3-2 win for the Galaxy.

After winning Group 5, LA will face Group 2 winners’ Costa Rican side Herediano in the CCL quarterfinals in March. The first leg will take place in Costa Rica on March 7 before the second leg at The Home Depot Center on March 13. CCL SCHEDULE

Adam Serrano is the LA Galaxy Insider. Read his blog at LAGalaxy.com/Insider and contact him at LAGalaxyInsider@Gmail.com