Gio Dos Santos ineffective as Santos totally outclasses LA Galaxy
It was almost as if LA Galaxy striker Robbie Keane's statements pregame that MLS is "on par" with Liga MX ruffled a few feathers in the Santos Laguna dressing room. Los Guerreros dominated the CONCACAF Champions League (CCL) quarterfinal encounter on Tuesday, defeating LA Galaxy 4-0 on the night and on aggregate to advance to face the winner of Seattle Sounders and Club America in the semifinals.
Here are three takeaways from the match.
Santos better all over the pitch
It could've been 5-0 by halftime had Santos Laguna been a little more clinical in the first 45 minutes. By then, the team from the northern Mexican city of Torreon had enjoyed 69 percent of possession and nine shots on goal in the Estadio Corona. For a side under Luis Zubeldia that isn't as possession-orientated as most in Liga MX, it gives you an idea of the dominance Los Guerreros enjoyed in the first half.
Martin Bravo opened the scoring from a corner in the 19th minute, with Ulises Davila's deflected shot making it 2-0 four minutes later and Djaniny heading home in the 36th. From there, it was game over, but Bravo managed to add his second in the 61st to rub salt in the Galaxy wounds.
The dynamic Santos central midfield duo of Diego de Buen and Jesus Molina ran the show against rigid veterans Steven Gerrard and Nigel de Jong, while Galaxy's defending from set-pieces was frightening. Ironically, Zubeldia had picked out set-pieces as a Galaxy strong point ahead of the match.
Santos' front four of Nestor Calderon, Davila, Djaniny and Bravo buzzed around, picking up the ball at will in space between the Galaxy defense and midfield and driving forward. The Galaxy had no answer to Santos' youthful dynamism and it is difficult to believe the involvement of Ashley Cole -- who missed the trip to attend the birth of his son in Rome -- would've changed the outcome significantly.
The victory came with such a swagger that Santos fans inside Estadio Corona, who have had little to shout about of late, were already doing the wave and chanting "Ole" to their team's passes before halftime.
The win will come as welcome relief for 35-year-old Argentine coach Zubeldia, who was under a little pressure after his team failed to win any of its five games in February.
Giovani Dos Santos has had better days
Dos Santos' first official club match in Mexico was one he'll want to forget.
Derogatory chants echoed ahead of the first whistle from a crowd that had previously cheered him in two appearances for Mexico's national team in Estadio Corona. Once the game got underway, Dos Santos appeared too eager to impress, perhaps because he was aware El Tri coach Juan Carlos Osorio was in attendance in the stands.
The Colombian can't have been too impressed. Dos Santos had one good headed effort to force a fine save from Agustin Marchesin midway through the first half and little else. He missed a relatively easy chance in the 50th and was petulant when free kicks weren't given his way.
If you didn't know Dos Santos' history and were selecting players of interest for Mexico on the basis of Tuesday's game, Calderon and Davila would be ahead of him on the list. Dos Santos has much work to do to get back into the Mexican national team reckoning.
Awful advert for MLS
The fact that these CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal games take place before the MLS season has even begun puts that league's sides at an important disadvantage. Nobody can deny it and Keane was right to point it out in the pregame news conference.
But in terms of PR and for the average fan, a lot of the time that reality falls on deaf ears.
The bottom line is the results and seeing a star-studded, aging Galaxy side humbled by a young Santos team in which few in Europe would be able to name a single player is a blow to the American league's pride and status.
The game seems to have passed Gerrard by and he looked every bit his age, a shadow of the player in his Liverpool prime. Again, being in preseason may have a lot to do with that, but these CCL clashes are the snapshot that fans in Mexico see of MLS.
Queretaro's comfortable 3-1 aggregate win over D.C. United made it two wins out of two for Liga MX sides over MLS teams in the first two quarters. And nobody could argue at present that Santos and Queretaro are among Liga MX's best.
Over the last five years, MLS sides have faced Mexican teams on 40 occasions in the CCL, winning only eight, drawing 11 and losing 21. Keane's claims of parity between the leagues won't be taken seriously in the eyes of many as long as Liga MX teams continue to win, as harsh as that may sound.
Tom Marshall has been based in Guadalajara since 2008 and has written about Mexican football ever since. Find him on Twitter @MexicoWorldCup.