An early Cristian Pavon masterpiece was equaled by Houston forward Mauro Manotas in the second half to give the hosts a 1-1 draw at BBVA Stadium in Houston Saturday, Feb. 29. Following an average display from Los Angelinos, captain Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez’s MLS debut underwhelmed as the Mexican superstar had zero shots on goal.
- 13’ Cristian Pavon, LAG 1-0
- 54’ Mauro Manotas, HOU 1-1
Galaxy’s Bright Start
Pavon’s 13th-minute strike from just inside the Houston Dynamo box resulted from a quick outlet pass by goalkeeper David Bingham and was the most effective LA Galaxy’s counterattack looked all afternoon. Debut’s to midfielders Aleksandar Katai and Sacha Kljestan alongside Chicharito meant the five-time MLS Cup champions found it difficult to muster offense after a decent start to the game.
“We played really well the first 20 minutes,” Galaxy head coach Guillermo Barros-Schelotto said. “Then they started managing the ball. They [kept] managing the ball, scored and we changed with [Joe] Corona, started to manage the ball and could have won the game.”
The bright start from LA Galaxy was spearheaded by Katai’s second-minute header that rattled Houston goalkeeper Marko Maric’s post. Galaxy left-back Emiliano Insua, also a debutant, had acres of space to start the game on the left-wing and his whipping cross found a surging Katai who beat Houston defender Adam Lundkvist in the air. Leaving only Maric’s left post to spare the hosts from trailing early.
Twelve minutes later, Bingham pounced on a loose Houston cross and quickly released a laser-beam, 50-yard pass onto the path of Pavon on the left-wing. The winger streaked forward and was shepherded inside by two Dynamo defenders that could only look on in astonishment after the Argentine curled a shot into the top right corner of the net.
The Galaxy no. 10 was featured Monday in MLS’s Team of the Week.
Houston Dominates Midpoint of Game
The best chance of the first half for the Dynamo came at the 36th minute from a well-developed move including winger Tommy McNamara, forward Mario Manotas and midfielder Oscar Boniek Garcia. The latter started in midfield, feeding Manotas who worked a 1-2 pass with McNamara. When Manotas got the ball back from McNamara inside the box, his first-time pass found the rushing Boniek Garcia whose shot from an acute angle hit the outside of the post.
During a moment of perplexity from LA nine minutes after the restart, though, Dynamo would equalize. Houston pounced on a loose ball in the attacking third on the left side of the pitch and quickly worked the ball to the right-wing where right-back Zarek Valentin’s ball into the box was weighted nicely for Manotas to fire the game-tying goal past Bingham.
Galaxy’s Insua and center-back Giancarlo Gonzalez were beaten by Valentin’s clinical pass which showed signs of a stagnant left side in the backline.
Like Barros-Schelotto said, the time after Houston’s equalizer saw the Galaxy searching for a go-ahead goal. In a 10 minute span from the 65th to 75th minute, Galaxy managed a couple of threatening moments. Substitute Joe Corona came close to getting on the score sheet eight minutes after his introduction in the 58th minute as Pavon’s 30-yard run into the box dragged three defenders, leaving Corona with an opportunity to fire past Maric from just inside the box.
The Austrian goalkeeper was beaten but center back Aljaz Struna made a crucial block two-yards in front of the goal line to keep things level. At minute 74, Maric was called upon again. This time pawing away a Sebastian Lletget shot that the midfielder was unable to make clean contact with. Fluffing his lines in the moment of truth at the top of the penalty area following a run from his own half to get on the end of a play made by Chicharito.
Chicharito’s Subtle Contribution
Regarding Pavon’s go-ahead goal, the finish was divine and the pass from Bingham was just as nice. What goes unnoticed is the movement of LA Galaxy’s Chicharito. It doesn’t seem important but the movement of the ex-Manchester United and Real Madrid striker was essential in how Pavon managed to cut in and shoot.
When Pavon trapped the ball on the left-wing, Hernandez knew what the Argentine wanted to do. The new skipper, rather than giving double-marked Pavon a passing lane for assistance, decided to drift wider to the right. In six seconds, the goal-scorer goes from trapping the ball 15-yards past the halfway line on the left side of the field to just inside the box and unleash the attempt. Chicharito ended up on the right side of the box with his defender, Maynor Figueroa, completely out of the play.
“Maybe we couldn’t take the best opportunities for Chicharito to score but we tried to look for him in the box,” Barros-Schelotto said. “He worked very hard for the team and I’m happy with the point.”
The Galaxy will host the Vancouver Whitecaps Saturday, March 7 in its home opener at 7 p.m. inside Dignity Health Sports Park. Also Saturday, Houston travels to Kansas City for a 5:30 p.m. kickoff at Children’s Mercy Park against Sporting KC.
Top Photo: Troy Taormina/USA TODAY Sports