Gio dos Santos: LA Galaxy can reach CONCACAF Champions League semis
Despite the 0-0 draw against Mexican rival Santos Laguna, LA Galaxy striker Giovani dos Santos said he believes the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals are wide open.
Dan Kennedy made five saves and the new-look LA Galaxy held Santos Laguna to the draw in the first leg on Wednesday night.
After failing to defend its MLS title last season, the Galaxy underwent another roster overhaul heavy on star power. Five newcomers were in the starting lineup, including English defender Ashley Cole and Dutch midfielder Nigel de Jong, and it didn't take long for that class to show itself.
"The second leg is wide open with the 0-0 score," Dos Santos told ESPN Deportes. "I think our team did good work today. It is too bad that we couldn't solidify the chances that we did have to score, but the team is headed in the right direction and we are looking forward to the second leg so we can play a great match and win the series."
Jelle Van Damme's header off a corner kick forced Santos Laguna goalkeeper Agustin Marchesin to make a dramatic one-handed save in the opening minute. The Galaxy continued to create chances early, with Robbie Keane slipping behind three defenders in the 17th minute but unable to head Steven Gerrard's pass on goal.
Dos Santos said he was also disappointed that he couldn't capitalize on any opportunities.
"Yes, I couldn't get anything going, but the important thing is to keep fighting and improve for the return leg where we must maintain the same path and score on all the chances that present themselves."
The Mexico international avoided making any comparisons between Major League Soccer and Liga MX based on this match, which was his first for the Galaxy against a Mexican club.
"You [media] are the ones who have to evaluate," he said. "I only feel that today was a very close match and we had the best chances to score goals."
The tie will be settled in Torreon, Mexico on March 1. Under the CONCACAF Champions League format, road goals count double, meaning the Galaxy head to Tuesday's return leg of the two-game quarterfinal series with the need to score a goal in either a win or a tie to advance.
The winner will face the winner between the Club America-Seattle Sounders series. The eventual CCCL champion earns a berth at the Club World Cup.
The match became particularly ill-tempered in the final minutes when Keane got into an animated discussion with Santos Laguna manager Luis Zubeldia before the two were separated.
"If we had scored a goal it would have been the perfect result, but it is still a good result,'' Gerrard said. "We've been banging the drum all preseason about being solid defensively and keeping clean sheets, and that's the basis we can be successful from."
While Santos Laguna is nearly halfway through its Liga MX Clausura season, the Mexican side never really got into a flow offensively until the final minutes of the first half. One of its best looks came in the 67th minute, when Jesus Molina's booming shot hit dos Santos in the side, prompting unsuccessful appeals for a handball.
"Could be worse," Galaxy manager Bruce Arena said of the result. "For our first time out I thought we played well. ... We're not going to change much between now and Tuesday. In a couple months, we'll see what kind of team we have."
Zubeldia admitted that Santos will feel the pressure.
"With this result the series is still open," he said. "But we need a [victory]."
Finally, Dos Santos said the Copa America Centenario draw was tough for Mexico, who face Uruguay, Jamaica and Venezuela in the first round. He called Uruguay a "complicated" rival but said: "[Mexico] is improving, little by little improving the level."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.