LA Galaxy provided a CONCACAF Champions League template for Liga MX and MLS teams to follow in the 3-0 dismantling of C.S. Cartagines on Wednesday night.
The MLS Cup holders avoided the usual traps encountered by the big sides in tricky away ties with a determined and swashbuckling start in San Jose. Bruce Arena's side dictated the terms of the affair from the outset and scuppered any lingering hopes of an upset by scoring three times inside the opening half-hour.
Peril rises to the fore in these matches when opposing teams loiter on the fringes of the proceedings. A bad bounce here or a poor night in front of goal there turns victories into draws and draws into defeats. It happens time and time again as clubs navigate this compressed and treacherous six-game gauntlet, but the Galaxy eliminated the danger with the early outburst and proceeded through the match professionally to usher the Costa Ricans out of the competition.
Arena and his willing reserves reaped the benefits of their dedication at the final whistle by guaranteeing a quarterfinal berth with a match to spare. Others will join them after a bit more toil, but the Galaxy can now afford to reflect on their accomplishments in this competition and turn its complete attention to the ongoing Western Conference playoff race instead.
Houston Dynamo 2 - W Connection 0
This performance lacked a touch of the expected conviction given the gulf in class between the sides, but the Dynamo muddled through a poor first-half display to dispatch the submissive Trinidadians nonetheless. Houston coach Dominic Kinnear trusted a reserve-laden lineup - plus a couple of starting defenders and Giles Barnes, Ricardo Clark and Boniek Garcia as second-half substitutes - to snatch the victory required to grab control in Group 1.
It took a while for the Dynamo to warm to its task, though. W Connection expressed little desire to play at the outset and sat deeply inside its own half. Houston found itself too content to operate on the periphery and pile pressure on the rickety Trinidadian rearguard for the opening half-hour.
Once the closing down and the tempo increased, the home side transferred its territorial dominance to the scoreboard. Kofi Sarkodie saw his effort cleared off the line by Jordão to provide the warning shot before Jason Johnson fired home his stunning opener five minutes before the interval. Johnson collected a poor clearance, eluded his defender on the left side of the penalty area and smashed home inside the far post to hand the Dynamo its desired superiority heading into the break.
Bobby Boswell sorted out the result six minutes after play resumed with ample help from shoddy set-piece defending. The otherwise anonymous Alex López curled an inviting corner kick toward the near post. Boswell glided past his marker and turned his well-placed header between the post and the man supposedly protecting it to double the advantage.
W Connection countered a bit and tardily pursued the game a bit in the final quarter of an hour, but the Dynamo sidestepped any genuine danger to collect the points. The triumph vaulted Houston over Arabe Unido to claim top spot in Group 1 with one match still to play. A draw or a win in Panama City on Oct. 24 will clinch a quarterfinal berth, but the fixture's placement during the final week of the MLS season will present Kinnear with a selection headache as he weighs his priorities.
C.S. Cartagines 0 - LA Galaxy 3
Jack McBean's robust center forward display led the Galaxy's determined effort from the outset and sparked this youthful Galaxy outfit to a resounding away victory in San Jose. Galaxy manager Bruce Arena omitted his regulars and watched his reserves respond to the challenge accordingly in a match shifted the neutral national stadium after Cartagines' home ground failed to meet the proper standards.
Similar sentiments apply to Cartagines' first half display, but the Galaxy deserves ample credit for unsettling the Costa Ricans from the opening whistle. McBean served as the protagonist for the Galaxy's effort with his energetic and skillful work to lead the line. He staked the Galaxy -- in need of one point to secure safe progress to the quarterfinals with one game remaining -- to the lead inside six minutes by stooping to head home Rafael Garcia's inviting free kick from the right.
McBean turned provider seven minutes later to start a tidy move for the second. The USA youth international pulled out to the right flank and slipped a clever ball for Michael Stephens to serve toward the spot. Chandler Hoffman ghosted into the perfect area and glanced his finish delicately inside the far post.
Laurent Courtois removed all doubt about the Galaxy's place in the final eight by notching the third inside the opening half-hour. The former Chivas USA midfielder scored his second Champions League goal in as many matches with a rasping half-volley across Luis Torres to consolidate the Galaxy's considerable advantage.
Cartagines improved incrementally after that abject opening period without truly threatening the Galaxy's hold over the game. Los Angeles confirmed its supremacy in Group 8 with a match still to play at the final whistle. Arena now possesses the luxury of naming any squad he so chooses for the trip to San Salvador to face Isidro Metapán in the final group fixture on Oct. 24.