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.