TIJUANA, Mexico – Rob Friend did his part during the LA Galaxy’s CONCACAF Champions League 4-2 defeat to Club Tijuana on Tuesday evening, and after a stellar 45 minute shift, he may be in contention for more playing time in the future.
With the Galaxy down 3-0 at the half, head coach Bruce Arena threw on Friend for Brazilian forward Samuel as LA switched to a more direct approach. With the 6-foot-5 forward drawing added attention from the Tijuana backline, it allowed LA attackers Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane additional space to operate and ultimately led to a pair of goals in a Galaxy comeback that fell just short.
Even though the final goal never came, Friend declared that the Galaxy could “have [their] heads up high” for their second half showing.
"Playing against them we had to use our advantage and putting me up front, playing more direct, getting fouls, getting a little bit dirty, we had to play that way,” said Friend following the Galaxy’s defeat. “Sometimes you need to play a little bit ugly and more direct and if you get a result, and I think if we played another ten more minutes that way we would have scored another goal and advanced."
This “ugly play” nearly paid dividends as Friend repeatedly tussled with the Tijuana defenders and won five free kicks during his cameo showing. But where he was particularly effective was in his ability to knock passes into space. This nearly led to the decisive goal in the 90th minute as he played a headed pass to Keane who fired his shot just over the bar in what was the Galaxy’s final genuine scoring opportunity of the match.
“We knew that with his height advantage it was going to cause them a hell of a lot of problems because they’re small in the back and that was the case,” said Keane. “Rob isn’t one of these [target forwards] that you can just smack the ball up to him and he flicks [forward], he holds the ball up and gets involved in the play. It gave myself and Landon a lot of joy just behind him.”
Donovan was also quick to heap praise on Friend following his strong shift against the Liga MX side.
“I thought that this would be a game where Rob would be effective in,” said Donovan. “It was good for him to get on the field at halftime, it gave us an outlet and we needed an outlet with the pressure that they were going to put on us, and it proved to be true. He did a great job of causing foul, getting some knock down and getting some chances.”
As the Galaxy put the CONCACAF Champions League in the rearview mirror, Friend believes that their performance in the second half bodes well once they return to league play against Real Salt Lake on Saturday.
“It is nice to get a half into my belt,” Friend said. “There was a lot of positives I think, and we can move on to the next game, learn from our mistakes and learn from our positives in the second half.”