LA Galaxy coach Bruce Arena felt he did not need star players Steven Gerrard or Robbie Keane to handle Trinidad and Tobago Pro League outfit, Central FC. And he was right.
So, with Gerrard looking on from the stands, a largely second-string Galaxy outfit romped to a 5-1 win over the “Couva Sharks” in CONCACAF Champions League action at the Stubhub Centre in Los Angeles.
There was a touch of stardust, though, as Mexico star and former Barcelona attacker, Giovani Dos Santos, came off the bench to score on his debut for the Major League Soccer (MLS) team.
It was the Sharks’ first Champions League appearance and probably not quite what they hoped for from the glamour tie.
No LA Galaxy representative met the visitors at the airport—which would have been a tricky proposition anyway as Central got to Los Angeles in dribs and drabs—while the Pro League team was not allowed to train at the match venue at game time on the eve of the clash, as is customary.
And there was further evidence of the scant courtesy towards the guests at kick off as Arena, a former United States head coach, sent out a squad with only two regular first team players, Alan Gordon and Gyasi Zardes.
Yet, even at half strength, Galaxy was still too much for a Central squad that was playing its first game of the season under a debutante coach, Ross Russell.
Spanish midfielder Ignacio Maganto should have put Galaxy ahead after just two minutes but wasted a free header off a left side cross. The Central defence was breached again in the fourth minute and, this time, Gordon headed home at the far post after a Zardes cross.
Remarkably, Central managed an equaliser, just two minutes later, although it owed much to a very generous call from Belize referee Christopher Reid.
Central striker Willis Plaza chased a pass into the opposing penalty area and Galaxy goalkeeper Brian Rowe rushed across to get both hands on the ball. Reid pointed to the penalty spot, to the disgust of the hosts, and Ataulla Guerra stroked home an equaliser.
Central might have gone one better in the 18th minute as Plaza wriggled past two opponents but hit his left footer into the side netting from just outside the penalty box.
In truth, the Central backline never offered the stability necessary to put real pressure on the home team and it was only a matter of time before Galaxy restored their advantage.
Raul Mendiola, who was making his first start of the season, got their second goal in the 42nd minute as he ran on to a ball over the top and rounded Central custodian Jan-Michael Williams to tap home.
Mendiola did not like his next meeting with Williams as much as the “Soca Warriors” goalkeeper smashed the tiny Mexican out of his shoes while chasing a loose ball. The groggy Galaxy winger was immediately substituted in the 36th minute.
It did not stop Galaxy’s momentum though as Zardes extended their lead in the 55th minute off another debatable penalty—Keion Goodridge was harshly penalised after a bump on Gordon in the area.
Santos replaced Gordon in the 56th minute and that’s when the Sharks were really in trouble as the crowd responded emphatically and Galaxy went up a level.
The gifted Mexican opened his Galaxy account in the 76th minute as he diverted a low cross past Williams at his far post. And Maganto closed off the score summary with a tidy finish in the 84th minute after an exchange of passes.
Worse, Central full back Kaydion Gabriel was stretchered off the field in stoppage time in obvious discomfort.
It completed another miserable week for the Pro League at CONCACAF level as, on Tuesday, DIRECTV W Connection were whipped 4-0 away to Santos Laguna.
LA Galaxy (4-4-2): 12.Brian Rowe (GK); 33.Dan Gargan, 27.Dave Romney, 21.Tommy Meyer, 25.Rafael Garcia; 15.Ignacio Maganto, 3.Mika Vayrynen, 34.Kenney Walker, 40.Raul Mendiola (17.Sebastian Lletget 39); 11.Gyasi Zardes (20.AJ De La Garza 80), 9.Alan Gordon (10.Giovani Dos Santos 56).
Unused substitutes: 31.Andrew Wolverton (GK), 4.Omar Gonzales, 14.Robbie Rogers, 19.Juninho.
Coach: Bruce Arena
Central FC (4-4-1-1): 21.Jan-Michael Williams (GK) (captain); 15.Kaydion Gabriel, 12.Jamal Jack, 5.Akeem Benjamin, 3.Keion Goodridge; 7.Jason Marcano (19.Nathaniel Garcia 60), 2.Elton John, 8.Sean De Silva, 11.Darren Mitchell (24.Kevon Villaroel 69); 45.Ataulla Guerra; 33.Willis Plaza (6.Kerry Baptiste 73).
Unused substitutes: 30.Akel Clarke (GK), 14.Nicholas Dillon, 17.Marcelle Francois,
Coach: Ross Russell
Referee: Christopher Reid (Belize)
CONCACAF Champions League
(Thu Aug 6)
LA Galaxy 5 (Alan Gordon 4, Raul Mendiola 42, Gyasi Zardes 56 pen, Giovani Dos Santos 76, Ignacio Maganto 84), Central FC 1 (Ataulla Guerra 6 pen) at Los Angeles;
(Tue Aug 4)
Santos Laguna 4 (Djaniny 41, 68, Jesus Escoboza 61, Luis Mendoza 90), W Connection 0 in Torreon, Mexico;
(Thu Aug 20)
Saprissa v W Connection, 10 pm, Costa Rica;
(Thu Aug 27)
Comunicaciones v Central FC, 10 pm, Guatemala.