Late Gordon goal rescues Galaxy to 1-1 draw with Central

Galaxy advances to the CCL quarterfinals

 Alan Gordon reacts with a look of relief after scoring La Galaxy’s equalising goal in a 1-1 draw with Central FC on Wednesday 23 September 2015 to seal top spot of Group D and qualify for the quarterfinal stage of the 2015-2016 CONCACAF Champions League. (Courtesy Allan V. Crane / www.ttproleague.com)

Thursday 24 September 2015

Alan Gordon had the responsibility of shouldering the stardom in absence of LA Galaxy's marquee players and the 33-year-old forward did just that.

Gordon, a United States international, equalised late for the Major League Soccer (MLS) Cup champions to earn a 1-1 draw Trinidadian side Central FC to qualify for the quarterfinal stage of the 2015-2016 CONCACAF Champions League (CCL), which runs February 23, 2016 – March 01, 2016, with a game – at Guatemala’s Comunicaciones on October 21 – in hand.

Galaxy (7 points, 2-1-0) sealed the top spot of Group D, while the debuting campaign of second placed Central (4 points, 1-1-2) came to an end. Comunicaciones (3 points, 1-0-2) currently occupy bottom.

Central, who were defeated 5-1 at Galaxy in the first-leg, led 1-0 from as early as second minute of play when Trinidad and Tobago international, Willis Plaza, hammered a precise strike into the bottom far corner of goalkeeper Brian Rowe’s net after collecting a Marvin Oliver pass just inside the right of the box.

The Digicel Pro League and Caribbean champions had an excellent opportunity to take a two-goal cushion into the dressing room at the break, however 18-year-old attacker, Nicholas Dillion, flopped in the six yard area, with two unsuccessful swings of the leg, as Rowe stood at his mercy following a ball over the top by Plaza.

“I know he (Dillon) missed an easy chance but he was nervous,” said Central head coach Ross Russell. “It was a big game for him. I can’t [chastise] him for it. He played well for us.”

But after eighty minutes of battling and failing to beat Central and T&T number one Jan-Michael Williams from set pieces, Galaxy finally pegged the equalising goal in the 82nd minute.

Second half substitute Jose Villarreal had injected renewed life in Galaxy, and it was off the 22-year-old midfielder’s move then pass from the right, that Gordon, who scored in the first-leg, found the back of Williams net.

“I am disappointed because we played well,” said the Central FC goalkeeper and captain, who had produced superb saves in the 26th and 69th minutes to put behind free-kick strikes by Mika Vayrynen and Villarreal, respectively.

“We got the early goal and I think we could have held on for the win.”

Williams, who was also brilliant during his team’s 1-0 win over Comunicaciones a week ago at the same venue, continued, “The high point for us (in the CCL), is that we didn’t lose a home game. But (the low point is that) we didn’t prepare well on and off the field from the beginning. We could have done better against Galaxy (even in the first-leg).”

Williams believes the introduction of a Caribbean professional league will help raise the standards of regional clubs against the powerhouses of North and Central America. He also said that the current domestic league dates puts Trinidadian clubs at a disadvantage being out of season when the CCL kicks in.

Delighted by the result, Russell told reporters, “My team answered the bell. They answered the call. We are happy that we could come back and get the result we got. First team or not, that’s LA Galaxy we played."
Willis Plaza (third from right) is congratulated by Central FC teammates after scoring in the second minute against MLS Cup champions LA Galaxy in Group D action of the 2015-2016 CONCACAF Champions League. (Courtesy Allan V. Crane / www.ttproleague.com)
Plaza, who caused a mounted camera some problems in the 72 minute when his powerful left-footed strike flew overbar, had an excellent opportunity to restore the “Couva Sharks” lead in the 85th minute but, after being one of the top players on the night, dragged his effort wide of the far netting after collecting an Oliver pass and powering past two Galaxy defenders to enter the box.

In the end it was a point for each side as both coaches had reason to cheer.

Russell blamed a lapse in concentration for allowing the visitors find the equalising goal but said he can't point any blame because his side were playing against a one of the confederation's top sides, LA Galaxy.

With Sunday’s MLS match against FC Dallas in mind and a heated campaign to win the Western Conference and Supporters' Shield, Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena had left home his "first eleven", which includes Ireland and former Tottenham forward Robbie Keane, former England and Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard, former Barcelona forward Giovani Dos Santos of Mexico and Brazilian midfielder Juninho, to the disappointment of many Trinidadians who turned out at the Port of Spain venue.

However Russell thanked the turnout, adding, “Thanks to the support from Trinidad. We know it’s because of LA Galaxy (that they turned up) because this is not what we usually get in the Pro League.”

Meanwhile Arena defended his decision to leave behind his stars and even traveling with just five substitutes on Wednesday night.

“We had enough,” said the former U.S. Men’s National Team coach. “We gave our younger players a chance. We have a game on the weekend and we had a lot of travel for this game. We were aware that we could have got ourselves in trouble. (But) the issue was to qualify out of the group and we did just that.

“It was an exciting game. Central were dangerous on the break… good defending their lead. We were just fortunate to get back in the game.

“We dug ourselves a hole in the first couple minutes of the game but I was proud of the team in the way they fought back in the second half, created some good chances.

“We got the point we needed anyway. We won the group. We would have like the three (points) but anytime you go on the road, these matches are difficult and it was a good experience for some of our young players as well. It’s nice to know we are (still) in the competition next year.”
LA Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena congratulates Central FC goalkeeper Jan-Michael Williams on a solid performance during his team’s 1-1 draw at the Hasely Crawford Stadium. (Courtesy Allan V. Crane / www.ttproleague.com)
Arena voted goalkeeper Williams as his “player of the game” and also had high praise for Willis Plaza, Ataulla Guerra, 40-year-old veteran Marvin Oliver, while applauding the general effort of Central.

Central will now turn their focus on their domestic league defence. The “Couva Sharks” must travel to face Point Fortin Civic from 6 pm at the Mahaica Oval on Saturday on their start of the 2015-2016 Digicel Pro League (DPL).

In other weekend DPL fixtures, Defence Force will kick things off against St. Ann’s Rangers from 6 pm at the Hasely Crawford Stadium on Friday.

On Saturday W Connection will host Police FC from 4 pm at the Mannie Ramjohn Stadium and simultaneously at the Larry Gomes Stadium, North East Stars will welcome debutants Club Sando.

Round One Match Day One will culminate on Sunday at the Hasely Crawford Stadium when neighbouring rivals Morvant Caledonia United and San Juan Jabloteh meet from 4 pm.

CONCACAF Champions League 2015-2016

Wednesday's result at the Hasely Crawford Stadium
Central FC 1 (Willis Plaza 2’) vs LA Galaxy 1 (Alan Gordon 82’)

Match statistics
Central FC                                     LA Galaxy
1                          Goals                1
4               Attempts on Target      4
5                  Attempts Wide          3
0                      Corners                 5
1                    Offsides                   2
11                       Fouls                    11
2                   Yellow Cards             0
0                     Red Cards               0

Central FC: 2.Elton John, 10.Marvin Oliver (Yellow Card 51st minute), 12.Jamal Jack, 14.Nicholas Dillon (Yellow Card 49th minute) (7.Jason Marcano 62nd minute), 15.Kaydion Gabriel, 17.Marcelle Francois, 21.Jan-Michael Williams (GK) (Capt.), 24.Kevon Villaroel, 33.Willis Plaza, 45.Ataulla Guerra (24.Mickaeel Jem Gordon 85th minute), 99.Marcus Joseph (8.Sean de Silva 82nd minute)

Unused substitutes: 5.Akeem Benjamin, 6.Kerry Baptiste, 25.Elijah Manners, 30.Akel Clarke (GK)

Coach: Ross Russell

LA Galaxy: 3.Mika Vayrynen (40.Raul Mendiola 69th minute), 6.Baggio Husidic (36.Oscar Sorto 14th minute), 9.Allan Gordon (Capt.), 12.Brian Rowe (GK), 15.Ignacio Maganto (5.Jose Villarreal 58th minute), 16.Edson Buddle, 21.Tommy Meyer, 25.Rafael Garcia, 27.David Romney, 33.Dan Gargan, 34.Kenney Walker

Unused substitutes: 2.Todd Dunivant, 31.Andrew Wolverton (GK)

Coach: Bruce Arena

Match officials
Referee: William Anderson (Puerto Rico)
Assistant Referee 1: Kenroy Wellis (Cayman Islands)
Assistant Referee 2: Graeme Browne (St. Kitts & Nevis)
Fourth Official: Trevor Taylor (Barbados)