The Los Angeles Galaxy have been MLS’ best team this season thus far, and their CONCACAF Champions League match against the Puerto Rico Islanders seemed like a mismatch.
But the Galaxy learned the hard way just how battle-tested the Islanders really are.
Playing against a Puerto Rico side that had won exactly one out of nine road games this year, the Galaxy were the lesser team throughout the evening as the Islanders romped their way to a 4-1 victory.
The Galaxy must now win by four goals in Puerto Rico on Aug. 4 in order to advance out of the Preliminary Round and into the tournament.
It wasn’t the Islanders’ 2010 form that was the difference, though. Puerto Rico, after all, were semifinalists in this very tournament just two years ago. Galaxy captain Landon Donovan admitted that was a factor in the game.
“They looked more experienced,” he said. “They looked like they knew what to do in situations. They looked like they’d been there before and we had a lot of young guys that played tonight that were clearly a little overwhelmed, especially after we went down.”
In one half, Puerto Rico did what it took four MLS clubs a combined 354 minutes to do at the start of the season: score twice. The Galaxy’s defense had not surrendered two goals in a single home match all season until San Jose scored twice on the Galaxy in a 2-2 draw Thursday.
But the Islanders did not stop after David Foley and Nicholas Addlery scored their first-half goals. And the Galaxy couldn’t to stop the Orange Troop from tallying again later on.
“We gave up the first goal, I think we got rattled a little bit and were taken out of our shape,” Galaxy midfielder Michael Stephens said. “It seemed like everything went their way whether it was the ‘keeper coming up with big saves or their shots from outside. We’ve got to give some credit to them. Obviously it wasn’t a great performance by us.”
Galaxy coach Bruce Arena said his players’ effort was good, that the result was based on a “couple of areas” in which Puerto Rico did better than the Galaxy and that not much from the game surprised him.
“We scouted this team. Actually, we could draw up exactly how this game was going to look and it was almost to the letter in the first half,” Arena said. “We knew exactly how they could play. We knew exactly how they could score a goal. Nothing out there besides the result surprised me that much.”
Although Puerto Rico took a 2-0 lead into the break, the Galaxy could not mount much of a comeback early in the second half. The Islanders then all but sealed the game and possibly the series when Josh Hansen buried a long-range shot in the 55th minute.
Even then, the Galaxy could have done better to get back into the series, if not the game.
“Even at 2-0 or 3-0 to try to make it 3-1, 3-2 and make it a more interesting challenge for next Wednesday was still our challenge. We still didn’t get it done,” Arena said.
When Addlery ripped a rocket in the 81st minute off Josh Saunders’ hands and into the back of the net, the Galaxy had hit a new low. The club had not allowed as many goals at Home Depot Center since FC Dallas dropped six goals on the Galaxy in September. Even a late own goal was not enough to take the sting out of the loss.
“At home, it is embarrassing,” Galaxy forward Edson Buddle said of the result. “We’ve got to give credit to Puerto Rico. The game has a way of checking you sometimes and putting things in perspective. Now we have a bigger challenge in front of us: to win in their hometown [and] hopefully do the same thing to them at their place.”