Barcelona tops Galaxy 2-1 at sold out Rose Bowl
On Tuesday night, the Rose Bowl in Pasadena hosted 93,226 supporters to see LA Galaxy take on Barcelona in an exhibition match that is part of the 2015 International Champions Cup tour. It was the Rose Bowl’s largest crowd ever for an MLS match.
I was there in the press box, tweeting, and attended the post-match press conference.
The match started at 8:00 pm and the day was one of those quintessential muggy, humid Southern Californian days. A layer of fog hung over the Rose Bowl but that didn’t deter the thousands of fans, overwhelmingly dress in Barca jerseys. In fact I’m not sure I saw a single Galaxy jersey except on Galaxy staff.
For my part, I arrived at the Rose Bowl with my companions, who had seats on the field-- a pretty penny if you were willing to pay it, to the tune of about $600 per seat with a painful $200 service charge per seat. But their seats were the best—not even David Beckham was sitting that close.
One of the biggest topics in the stands was the shock of Messi and Neymar (along with Bravo, Mascherano, and Alves) not being there. The fact that this was not announced until the Friday before the match rubbed many the wrong way. The prevailing feeling was that the public should have been told earlier on so their expectations could have adjusted, but I was equally sure the thought on the part of the tournament organizers was that they wanted to sell tickets.
Another widely-held and much-circulated belief was that Arda Turan was there and would play for Barca; this was due to the fact that Barcelona’s official site issued a news release last week stating that Arda Turan was in the lineup for the tournament. The reality is that Barca applied to FIFA to see if their transfer ban applied to friendly matches in the pre-season, which frankly sounds like they were simply calling to see if anyone in the FIFA offices were home, and hoping for a “silence means yes.” FIFA, however, said, yeah, no, you’re still in transfer time out—no official matches with a referee.
Arda Turan did, in fact, travel with his new team and attended the morning training sessions on Monday. He watched the match from one of the VIP boxes, which I had mixed feelings about because a) he was breathing the same air as me and b) he was actually on the same level as me. We could have ridden up the same elevator.
Luckily, disaster was avoided, and I didn’t see the bearded Turk. Although if I had, I’m sure I would have been nice—heartbroken, but nice.
Galaxy held Barca just fine just up until the final moments of the first half, defending in an aggressive 4-4-2 formation to Barca’s 4-3-3. Luis Enrique may have known he was without most of his shooting power, so a defense-tough approach was taken, whereas Galaxy prepared for anything with Robbie Keane up front supported by Steven Gerrard.
A beautiful goal from Luis Suarez made it 1-0 Barca right before the half, and when both teams returned to the pitch, things didn’t look much better for Galaxy as Sergi Roberto smashed home the second goal for Barcelona just ten minutes later.
Galaxy made several substitutions, allowing younger players to get minutes against a world-class team. This generosity is typical of matches like these. At the post-match press conference, Galaxy manager Bruce Arena was asked how he thought his reserves played.
Arena said, "They did well; I think it is a fabulous experience for them. Some of those kids are 19 years old, playing against an outstanding club, obviously in the second half, [FC] Barcelona went with some young players as well, but for our guys, I don't think [Robbie] Keane and [Steven] Gerrard need these games as much as the young kids need the experience. You can tell them a lot of things, but until they actually step on the field and experience it against quality players, they don't fully comprehend. Tonight for our young players it was an invaluable experience."
Galaxy’s Tommy Meyer knocked one in in the 90th minute to make the score 2-1, assisted by Mika Vayrynen. It was just the second goal of Meyer’s Galaxy career and the first Galaxy assist for Vayrynen.
Tommy Meyer said of his goal, “It's something you dream about. I'm pretty excited. Mika [Vayrynen] served a great ball and I was luckily there to put my head on it.”
Meyer added in regards to scoring in front of 93,226, “It's something you kind of hope happens but doesn't. Especially at the end of the game when you are trying to get a goal back and give something to our fans to cheer about, it definitely means a lot. When you walk out for warm ups you think, ‘Alright there is going to be a lot of people here.’ And then when you actually come out and the game starts and you kind of hear them you think that this is a pretty cool experience.”
In the Twittersphere, some remarked that Steven Gerrard must have hated having to be "toyed with," but to be honest I think Gerrard was rather enjoying himself. Galaxy played a great match and the younger players should be pleased with themselves.
That said, it was very clear that Bruce Arena had wanted to knock the stuffing out of a mighty team. His tone at the post match press conference was on the testy side.
When he was asked how it was to play Barcelona and whether it might affect Saturday’s game against Houston Dynamo, Arena said, “I think us playing our full team for 90 minutes doesn't mean a thing and a win in these games as opposed to a loss is insignificant, I don't think it matters. Did you see us play Juventus two years ago? Were you standing up and shouting that our league is great because we won an exhibition against Juventus? It is an exhibition, relax. It is good for both teams.
“I think tonight was good for the fans, mission accomplished. We have a more important game on Saturday; we are trying to get our team ready for that. We had a couple players injured tonight, which isn't good, you don't go out against [FC] Barcelona and play half speed, to be able to get through 45 minutes with both teams was good. I think a result like we had last year versus Manchester United is not a good statement for our league but tonight we are not embarrassed at all by our performance."
Luis Enrique, speaking after the match, said in response to how much it hurts or helps to have a preseason without Leo Messi, “Leo is the greatest in the world. We are lucky to have seen him all these years in Barcelona. He’s on vacation and needs to recover from the long season, but our team is over 20 players and some will rest, some will play.”
In response to whether he was surprised at the level of the team considering it was the first match of the preseason, he said, “Yes, I am happy with the way they played, with the level. Overall the intensity as we have seen in the past was similar in practice, and yes I’m happy.”
Enrique said of the MLS and the Galaxy: “I don’t really follow MLS too much, I follow our own league and leagues in Europe as well, but obviously the soccer in this country is growing and has been growing over the years and a lot of European players are coming and offering their experience. Overall I liked what I saw from the Galaxy, a lot of teams will sit back and defend but they played well and made it tough on us and prevented us from having more opportunities on goal.”
I got the sense that Enrique doesn’t care for the rigmarole of speaking to the press, but he was cool and patient.
Galaxy midfielder Juninho said of the pace of the game, “It is much faster than normal; they [Barcelona] are at a different level. We tried to chase them and get the ball, but it was hard. It’s a good experience; we are going to take that for a long time.”
Interestingly, some felt the match had been less than exciting. Galaxy defender A.J. Delagarza said, “I think the crowd got bored after a while. Barcelona is a team that keeps 75% of the ball every game no matter whom they are playing. I remember one time sitting on the bench and it was quiet with 90,000 people.”
I predicted before the match that it would be 2-1 Barca, and although I am generally not known for the accuracy of my predictions, this time I was right. I expected Galaxy to hold their defense nicely and look for chinks in the Barca armor. Bringing on younger, inexperienced players was a smart move for Arena because their hunger and their speed was what was needed in the latter part.
Yes, Barca missed their major stars, but they did just fine with Suarez -- and let's face it, he's hardly chomped, I mean, chopped, liver.
This match was Galaxy’s second in the 2015 International Champions Cup; they defeated Club América 2-1 at StubHub Center on July 11.
Galaxy remain atop the International Champions Cup North American standings with seven points, ahead of Paris Saint-Germain, Manchester United, New York Red Bulls, FC Barcelona, Club América, Chelsea FC, Benfica, Fiorentina and San Jose Earthquakes.
Join me next Saturday when I return to the press box again on July 25 when Manchester United face Barcelona at the brand-new, state of the art Levi’s Stadium in the San Francsico Bay Area. You can follow me for live tweets during the game at @sierragfootball.