TIJUANA, Mexico — Prior to its CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal against Tijuana, LA Galaxy forward Robbie Keane said the team would be focused on the first 15 minutes of the match.
Xolos were sure to turn up the pressure, needing a goal to force extra time and two to advance. The Galaxy, Keane said, expected that and would be aware of the threat.
But cognizance and competence are two different things. The Galaxy were completely unable to stop the Tijuana onslaught as the tie was equalized from nearly the first whistle. Jaime Ayovi scored again to give the club a 2-1 aggregate lead seven minutes later and by halftime Tijuana was carrying a 3-1 aggregate lead.
“I think they didn’t expect us to come out that motivated and looking for the first goal so quick,” Tijuana midfielder Joe Corona said after the match. “I think they thought it was going to be an easier game for them, but it was good for us to come out with all that energy in the first half, and I think that’s what gave us the win.”
Keane himself said as much, though the visitors didn’t fold. The Irish forward pulled one back in the 47th minute but again the defense conceded, putting the tie out of the Galaxy’s reach even with another Keane goal.
“The game was over in the first 10 minutes, simple as that,” Keane said after the match Tuesday. “We started off slow when we conceded a goal in, what? One minute? 50 seconds? I mean, you can’t start away from home like that in any game, especially in a game like this one.”
The Galaxy attack was able to create a few chances, but it was playing from behind after the opening. Tijuana continually won possession and got the ball to Javier Guemez, who chipped over the top. Fit-again Dario Benedetto was the target and center back Leonardo wasn’t able to cope with the Argentine’s size or speed.
“I think they were good. The way we played, they couldn’t be bad,” Galaxy manager Bruce Arena said in a news conference after the match. “We gave them too much time and space, we didn’t win a tackle.
“Our back line was very poor. We weren’t good. Let’s be fair, we weren’t good. How good they were? I don’t know. They were certainly better than we were.”
It represents another failure for MLS, which has never had a club eliminate a Mexican team in the knockout round when the second leg took place in Mexico. While there are still two opportunities for that stat to change with Sporting Kansas City facing Cruz Azul and the San Jose Earthquakes playing Toluca, one LA Galaxy star says things won’t change until the league does.
“I think you see the difference in the leagues in nights like tonight,” Landon Donovan said. “We’ve got probably six, seven, eight guys who are mature, know how these games are. They’ve got 20 guys who know how these games go.
“That’s the difference between the payrolls kinda. That’s where we’re not going to... it’s going to be difficult to make that next step until we get on equal grounds that way, so you can have the type of players that know how to handle these games.”