Adam Cristman and Gregg Berhalter returned to action in Tuesday's SuperClasico in miniature, a huge step forward as the Galaxy gets healthier with the thickest part of their schedule just ahead.
Cristman, coming off start-of-the-season knee surgery, played the first half and set up L.A.'s goal in a 3-1 MLS Reserve League defeat to Chivas USA. Berhalter, sidelined two and a half months by a sprained knee, stepped onto the Galaxy backline for the final half-hour.
It was L.A.'s best news out of the midday clash at Home Depot Center's Track and Field Stadium, a fairly even affair swayed by Chivas' superior inventiveness (especially Gerson Mayen) and finishing touch (especially Victor Estupiñan) in front of goal.
Estupiñan scored twice and Mayen set up the Ecuadoran forward's first goal and trialist Chris Cortez's second-half as Chivas improved to 1-1-1 in the reserve league's Western Division. The Galaxy is 0-2-0.
“It certainly was good to get [Adam and Gregg] out,” said Galaxy assistant coach Curt Onalfo, who is in charge of L.A.'s reserve side. “Obviously, that's part of what these games are for.”
The idea is to get both back with the first team as soon as possible, with a six-games-in-22-days span starting with Saturday's showdown at HDC against the New York Red Bulls.
CRISTMAN'S PROVING GROUND: “This is a good exercise for me, in trying to prove I'm match-fit and can play and earn myself a spot on the 18[-player game roster] and get on the field in the weekend games,” said Cristman, who was acquired in a January trade from D.C. United. “That's the plan. It's really up to Bruce [Arena, the head coach] and the other coaches to evaluate that and determine if putting me in there makes sense.”
Cristman said he thinks he's ready to contribute to the first team but wants to see how his left knee holds up the next couple of days after “taking a few hits.”
“It took him five to seven minutes to find a rhythm, and then, all of a sudden, he was dangerous,” Onalfo said. “I felt like it would have been nice to have him for 90 minutes because he certainly was creating a whole lot of havoc the last part of the first half.”
BERHALTER BACK?: Berhalter, the Galaxy's backline leader and an assistant coach, too, is further away.
“I just started running last Monday,” he said. “Eight days ago I was not able to run, and now I'm playing. So it went quickly, but it's a progression. I played 30 minutes, and just building on that. … I feel good, I feel strong. That's the most important thing.”
A season-ending knee injury to Brazilian center back Leonardo has hurt L.A.'s defensive depth. Berhalter said he wants to return “regardless of who's fit, who's injured … I have a burning desire to play.” The Galaxy's need for him to return? “We've got a heavy schedule coming up, and we need bodies. That's a different issue.”
“Those minutes were important,” Onalfo said. “We were contemplating giving him 45, but we felt 30 minutes made the most sense, with him having been out so long.”
CHIVAS STRIKES: Mayen (Los Angeles/Manual Arts HS) was the instigator of Chivas' attack, slipping the ball to Estupiñan in the 31st minute for the first goal, setting up Cortez (Mission Viejo/Trabuco Hills HS) in the 64th for the finale, and nearly playing a role in two more, a header Francisco Mendoza put wide and his own chip past the right post.
Rookie Hector Jimenez (Bell Gardens/Bell Gardens HS) pulled the Galaxy even in the 35th, Cristman's cross caroming off him into the net, but Estupiñan restored Chivas' lead moments later from Mendoza's feed.
ACADEMY AWARDS: Both sides gave time to players from their youth academies. Matt Tilley (Irvine/Irvine HS) played 70 minutes in central defense for the Galaxy, coming on when Sean Alvarado (UCLA) suffered a knee injury (tests will determine the severity). Forward Justin Dhillon (Rancho Santa Margarita/Tesoro HS), like Tilley, saw time in his second MLS Reserve clash.
Academy defender Ian Hines-Ike and midfielder Chris Rodriguez (West Covina/Arroyo HS) made their third appearances for Chivas' reserves, both going the full 90. Goats coach Carlos Llamosa used forward Pedro Velazquez (Harbor City/Banning HS) and midfielder Edson Lemus (Wilmington/Banning HS) in the second half, and forward Danny Castro (Los Angeles/Bell HS) also was called up to the team, although he didn't play.
Cortez and Artur Aghasyan, who was stationed at right back, were the other non-roster players for Chivas.
Home Depot Center Track and Field Stadium (Carson)
Chivas USA 3, Galaxy 1
C -- Victor Estupiñan (Gerson Mayen) 31
LA -- Hector Jimenez (Adam Cristman) 35
C -- Victor Estupiñan (Francisco Mendoza) 36
C -- Chris Cortez (Gerson Mayen) 64
Chivas USA: Zach Thornton; Artur Aghasyan (Edson Lemus, 78), Michael Umaña, Ian Hines-Ike, Bryan de la Fuente; Chris Rodriguez, Mariano Trujillo, Gerson Mayen, Francisco Mendoza; Chris Cortez (Pedro Velazquez, 64), Victor Estupiñan. Unused subs: Sergio Arias, Danny Castro.
Galaxy: Josh Saunders; Frankie Hejduk, Sean Alvarado (Matt Tilley, 20), Jovan Kirovski, Ryan Thomas; Hector Jimenez, Paolo Cardozo (Justin Dhillon, 83), Dan Keat (Gregg Berhalter, 59), Chris Birchall; Adam Cristman (Jack McBean, 46), Bryan Jordan (Dustin McCarthy, 67). Unused sub: Brian Perk.
Yellow cards: Umaña 43, Keat 53. Referee: Magic Berenji.