Robert Mora/LA Galaxy

LA Galaxy U-18’s enjoy big weekend, take control of division

The LA Galaxy Academy U-18’s scored big this weekend.

A day after beating Strikers FC 4-1, the Galaxy took control of first place of the Southwestern Division standings in the West Conference thanks to a 1-0 win over Real Salt Lake-Arizona on Sunday. Raul Mendiola, who scored LA’s fourth goal against Strikers on Saturday, captained his team on Sunday and set up Justin Dhillon for the game’s only goal as LA stretched their winning streak to seven.

With three games left in the regular season, the Galaxy can clinch the division crown for a second consecutive season if they win each of their three remaining games, all of which will be played at The Home Depot Center.

The Galaxy entered the weekend trailing RSL-Arizona in the standings by four points.  But a combination of Saturday’s victory and RSL’s 3-2 loss to Chivas USA that same day meant the Galaxy would gain control of the division with a win on Sunday.

Both teams traded scoring opportunities in the first half, but neither was able to break the deadlock.

In the second half, Mendiola’s quick thinking led to the game-winning goal. After a foul in the middle of the field, Mendiola saw that the defense was not set and asked teammate Hugo Gutierrez to restart the game quickly. Once he got the ball, Mediola dribbled past two defenders and then laid the ball off to forward Justin Dhillon, who calmly flicked it over the Chivas USA goalkeeper for the winner in the 55th minute.

After the goal, the RSL-Arizona players were furious with the referee for the restart. Defender Jonathan Stadler was shown a yellow card for dissent, but the goal would stand.

RSL came close twice to tying the game, but Galaxy goalkeeper Daniil Slepukhin was there each time to make the save and preserve the shutout and the win.

“That’s a big win for us,” said LA Galaxy Academy U-18’s head coach Alex Yi. “Beside the standings, to play another MLS club is a big deal for us. It’s always been a big deal for this organization to kind of see where we are with the other professional Academies in the country so it’s kind of a double-bonus to beat Salt Lake and regain the top spot and control our own destiny.”

On Saturday, the LA Galaxy U-18 team cruised to a 4-1 win over Strikers FC at Orange Coast College.

With three starters returning from MLS Reserve League duty, it didn’t take long for the Galaxy to grab an early lead as forward Aaron Lombardi fired home his second goal in as many games just five minutes in.

As the game wore on, LA were in complete control with Lombardi and forward Justin Dhillon proving too much to handle for the Striker’s defense. At the half hour mark, Dhillon buried a cross from defender Ivan Vasquez to double the Galaxy lead to 2-0.

Five minutes later, LA added another to their tally with Dhillon picking out Lombardi who notched his second goal of the game and lifting LA to a 3-0 lead.

Just before halftime, Strikers FC pulled a goal back to make the score 3-1 heading into the break.

The second half was noticeably more aggressive with Strikers trying to find a way to get back within a goal. With the home side pushing forward, the Galaxy responded by making a flurry of substitutions to cope with the Strikers attack. But when Mendiola came off the bench for Nathan Castillo, the forward made an instant impact by firing home the fourth and final Galaxy goal in the 66th minute.

Despite the goal allowed just before halftime, Yi praised the performance of goalkeeper Daniel Slepukhin.

“Every game Danny is getting better and better and we really need that because of injuries,” Yi said about his goalkeeper who made five saves on Saturday— two of which came inside the game’s opening 20 minutes.

With only three matches remaining in the regular season, the Galaxy control their own fate in the race for first place in the division. If the Galaxy (18-4-3, 57 pts.) win their last three games of the regular season, all of which will be played at The Home Depot Center, they would finish ahead of RSL-Arizona (17-5-4, 55 pts.) and enter the U.S Development Academy Playoffs as division winners for a second consecutive season.