The LA Galaxy exacted a small bit of revenge Wednesday night for last Saturday’s 3-1 loss to the San Jose Earthquakes in the California Clasico at Stanford Stadium, as they moved on to the quarterfinal round of the 2015 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup with a 1-0 victory at Avaya Stadium.
An early goal from forward Jose Villarreal was the difference on the night as the announced crowd of 13,329 had little to cheer for over the entirety of the 90 minute match.
“[It was a] good solid game,” said Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena. “I think it was good experience for a lot of our young players. They did a good job. We had to weather the storm in the second half but did a good job.”
For San Jose, they struggled out of the gates and it cost them.
“If you start the game slow, you can get punished for it, and now you are chasing the game,” said head coach Dominic Kinnear. “It doesn’t matter how many chances you get, or if you think you are the better team, you need to start the game off correctly.”
The Earthquakes had twice as many shots as the Galaxy — 14 to 7 — and nine corner kicks to LA’s zero, but the only statistic that mattered is goals scored, and the visitors were tops in that category.
“I thought we might have learned our lesson in the game with Sacramento, because the same thing happened,” said Kinnear. “Obviously, we were playing against in a better team [in LA], and even though we worked hard and got ourselves in front of goal and got ourselves some chances, it’s the start the came back to haunt us.”
For the Galaxy, they remain undefeated against their rivals to the north in Open Cup play, improving to 4-0-1 (1-0 in PKs). With the loss, the Earthquakes remain winless against MLS opponents (0-6-3, 0-3 PKs) in the Open Cup, and are 4-5-2 (1-1 PKs) at home. San Jose is the only MLS team with a losing record at home in Open Cup play.
The Earthquakes kicked off the game in the direction of the LOBINA and had the San Jose Ultras at their backs, but it was the Galaxy that found wind in their sails in the early going. In the sixth minute, a clever pass through the midfield from Kenney Walker to Villarreal at the top of the area gave the young striker enough space to turn and fire a goal past a diving Bryan Meredith giving LA a lead they would not surrender.
San Jose appeared to equalize in the 30th minute as Jean-Baptiste Pierazzi delivered a free kick that skimmed off the gleaming dome that is Mark Sherrod’s head and off the gloves of Brian Rowe and into the net. Alas, the referee’s assistant promptly thrust her flag into the air for offside, and the goal was called off.
The Galaxy had a penalty call waved off in the 37th minute as Villarreal found himself behind the defensive line with only Meredith to beat. Instead, JJ Koval, playing center back for the Quakes, somehow managed to disrupt the forward’s shot attempt in the area without getting called for a foul, and Villarreal missed high of the target. If Villarreal had instead gone to ground when Koval initiated contact, he most likely would have earned a penalty and a red card on Koval.
The teams entered the locker room with LA up a goal at halftime, but it could have been a lot worse. Besides the controversy on Koval’s tug in the box, Quakes ‘keeper Bryan Meredith made a few good stops to keep the surging Galaxy at bay.
In the second half, the Earthquakes woke up. The midfield looked to be more direct with the ball, and for long stretches of the half, San Jose found possession on the LA side of the center line. In the 50th minute, they registered their first shot on goal, as a Tommy Thompson corner kick was headed in traffic by Koval, by Rowe was in position to deny the defender a goal.
“We had crosses, we had shots,” said Khari Stephenson. “We were in their half for 95% of the second half, but we needed to be more clinical in front of goal. We have to be better with our crosses and better with our finishing.”
The Quakes registered two more shots on target in the ensuing minutes, but neither troubled Rowe, and LA slowly settled into a defensive shape that foiled San Jose on every foray into the attacking third. In the 65th minute, Leandro Barrera blasted a ball wide of the near post in what can only be described as a missed opportunity for the ages.
“We were more aggressive, we passed the ball better, our movement off the ball was better, and second balls were ours,” said Kinnear. “In the second half, we were around the ball a heck of a lot more, and that’s the reason we were knocking on the door for as long as we were.”
With time running out, Kinnear rolled the dice and shifted his formation to a 3-5-2, but even with the extra offensive help, the Galaxy would not yield. A stoppage time effort from Sanna Nyassi, when the winger had the choice of squaring the ball into the mixer, sailed high over the crossbar, and with it sailed away the Earthquakes chances at capturing the 2015 US Open Cup.
LA moves on in the tournament to face Real Salt Lake, 2-0 winners earlier in the evening against the Portland Timbers, in a quarterfinal match at Rio Tinto Stadium to played later this month. With the loss, the Earthquakes turn their focus to Sunday’s MLS showdown with the Timbers at Providence Park.
Game notes: Avaya Stadium, the jewel of a facility opened by the Earthquakes earlier this year, has experienced a number of memorable moments so far this season. Fatai Alashe scored the first goal in MLS play back in a season opening 2-1 win over the Chicago Fire, while Stephenson “scored” a first of his own Wednesday against LA.
In the 42nd minute, the veteran Jamaican lined up a free kick from distance and went for goal. Instead, the ball soared well over its intended target and nestled into the Largest Outdoor Bar in North America — the first shot from the run of play to reach the LOBINA.
“History in the making,” said Stephenson with a laugh when told of the supposed accomplishment. “I scored the last goal at Buck Shaw and now I’m the first guy to hit the ball into the bar.
“I’ve hit a lot of long-distance free kicks and done really well with them, so you can’t hit all of them perfect,” Stephenson continued. “That one I didn’t hit to well, and as a result, it went into the bar.”
Finally, the Galaxy have now won back-to-back road games in the tournament for only the second time in franchise history. The last time they did it was back in 2002.
POST-GAME: JOSE VILLARREAL
FULL MATCH REPLAY: LA GALAXY AT SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES