Jack McBean is still learning how to use his size and strength to make a difference in MLS, where there's a physical dimension to the game rarely seen in Latin America.
The 18-year-old striker is building quite the résumé in the CONCACAF Champions League, and he might have made the biggest statement of his young career Wednesday night with a superb performance in the LA Galaxy's 3-0 romp over Cartaginés in San Jose, Costa Rica.
He scored a terrific early goal, which opened a door to two more strikes before the first half-hour was up, but his physical play and work off the ball made as great a difference as the Galaxy claimed the Group 8 title and the CCL quarterfinal berth that goes with it.
The result means that their Oct. 24 group-stage finale at El Salvador's Isidro Metapán is meaningful only for seeding purposes, and the team can place most of its focus on their final MLS regular-season game three days later, a showdown at Seattle that could have a huge say in the postseason race.
“It's good that we clinched tonight,” McBean told reporters in Costa Rica. “We didn't want to have to go down [to El Salvador needing a point]. We've been down and played in that atmosphere before. We know it's hard. We still want to get the win to position ourselves for better seeding, but it's not as much pressure [as it would otherwise be].”
McBean was key to that, imposing imposed himself on the Cartaginés defenders, opening space and creating opportunities that the Galaxy put away. He won the foul that led to his sixth-minute goal, easily beating defender Andrés Flores to powerfully head home Rafael Garcia's free kick from just right of the Costa Ricans' box, and after that, everything fell into place for LA.
“Getting the early goal is always good for a forward,” said McBean, who scored three goals in two group-stage victories -- over the Puerto Rico Islanders and Isidro Metapán -- in last year's tournament. “They needed to win the game [to remain alive], and when we got the early goal, they kind of sent number forward and opened up space for us to get more involved in the attack. And we got two more in the first half.”
McBean also found himself involved in the Galaxy's next two goals. He fended off two defenders to get the ball to Michael Stephens for the cross that Chandler Hoffman, with his first goal for the Galaxy, finished in the 18th minute, and sent in the ball that ricocheted to Laurent Courtois for a gorgeous finish from 25 yards in the 29th.
Hoffman, making just his second competitive appearance for LA's first team, was very good, too, a fine foil for the bigger, more physical McBean and a clear sign that he's progressing with the Galaxy. His goal was a true finisher's goal.
“I've scored a ton in Reserve League and in friendlies,” said Hoffman, who has six reserve goals for the Galaxy after scoring five last year -- plus the winner in a friendly against Schalke 04 -- with the Philadelphia Union. “To make it translate now to meaningful games is huge, and I just want to keep this going forward.”