Looking for a positive from the Galaxy's quick exit Tuesday night from the U.S. Open Cup? How about Leonardo, who returned to the Galaxy lineup after spending most of the past 13½ months rehabilitating a devastating knee injury?
The Brazilian center back went the full 90 minutes, not by plan, in L.A.'s third-round loss in Cary, N.C., to the Carolina RailHawks, who will be home for next week's round-of-16 clash against Chivas USA, the third successive Southern California side the second-tier club will face in the nearly century-old competition.
That's about it on the plus side.
The Galaxy's season-long slide dipped a little deeper with the 2-1 defeat, in which they surrendered a lead for the third straight game and were beaten for the sixth time in seven outings. No, they didn't have their big guns -- only Chad Barrett, Leonardo and maybe David Junior Lopes among the first XI could be considered “starters,” and none are first choice at their positions. One of the lessons from an evening in which seven of 14 Major League Soccer clubs in action were eliminated by lower-division foes: Those who used virtual first-choice lineups won, and those who didn't lost.
It was more pronounced for the Galaxy, which had to spend all three substitutions on injuries -- one of them apparently significant -- and was unable to make tactical swaps nor pull off fatigued players as Carolina took charge down the stretch.
Hector Jimenez's demise was the low point. He had to be carted off, RailHawks midfielder Amir Lowery on one shoulder, with a knee injury after a rough tackle near the end of the first half. He couldn't put weight on his left leg, and it looked serious. The Galaxy have provided no updates but he'll undergo a scan now that the team is back in Los Angeles.
Barrett left while cramping 20 minutes into the second half. Bryan Gaul, who like Jimenez has seen increased first-team time, left just before Ty Shipalane's 75th-minute equalizer after he was hit in the face during an aerial battle in the Galaxy box. His left eye was puffed up, but it appeared to be nothing serious.
“Three guys who have actually been playing game and three guys that would have been good to go 90 minutes,” midfielder Michael Stephens noted in his postgame media session. “It was really unfortunate, and I think you saw that. A lot of guys ran out of legs down the stretch.”
Include Leonardo in that group. He'd played just twice in games this spring -- 11 minutes in an April 24 reserve friendly against the L.A. Blues and one half in an MLS Reserve League game with San Jose on May 8 -- and was on the 18-man roster, but did not play, in the last three league games.
“Remarkable we got 90 minutes out of him tonight ...,” Arena said. “We didn't anticipate him playing that long, but once we had those injuries and we had to make all our changes, he had to stay in there. He did a good job. He obviously got tired at the end.”
The Galaxy appeared in control until Shipalane scorched Bryan Jordan to score the RailHawks' first goal. Pat Noonan scored a fine opener in the 38th minute, and L.A. didn't concede a shot on goal until the 56th. But the speedy Shipalane's emergence off the bench in the 66th minute changed things.
He was told to target Jordan.
“Coach told me ... he was a little bit slow and nobody was giving him a challenge,” the former D.C. United prospect told local media. “So he wanted me to go at him, try to make something happen and go by him.”
Once Shipalane did so, the Galaxy was done.
“We knew if we got the first goal, the second one would come ...,” said RailHawks coach Colin Clarke, the former FC Dallas boss who guided the Puerto Rico Islanders past the Galaxy in the CONCACAF Champions League preliminary round two years ago. “We were on that roll. We were looking like the team who was going to score the next goal. We were on the front foot and getting at them with speed and pace.”
Carolina kept prodding and should have taken the lead with five minutes to go, when Lopes was stripped by Jason Garey, another MLS vet, who fired wide after racing in one-on-one with Galaxy goalkeeper Bill Gaudette. Three minutes later, the winner arrived. Shipalane's cross from the right found Brian Shriver's head, Gaudette made the save while falling back into his net, and the ball spun when it hit the ground, rolling gently across the line.
Given the way things have gone all year, it was perhaps the most appropriate way to bow out of the competition. It was most disappointing to those on the field, most of whom have seen limited first-team time this season. They were counting on these games.
“A lot of us haven't been getting a lot of minutes,” Stephens said, “and [the Open Cup is] something we looked forward to. We were planning on playing again next week, and now that were out, it's a big disappointment for us.”
Now the focus is solely on turning things around in MLS. The Galaxy is 3-8-2, last in the Western Conference and 17th overall in the 19-team league. Leonardo's return to action can only help.
WORTH NOTING: Arena was asked about the partnership in central defense between Leonardo and Lopes, and Lopes can't like the answer. “I thought Leonardo played well tonight,” the coach said. “We'll see what our partnerships are down the road.” ... Clarke, on the victory and sellout crowd of nearly 8,000: “It was a very special night. Nights like this are what it's all about.” ... Robbie Keane tallied twice Tuesday in Ireland's 5-0 win over a Pistola Select XI in Italy. ... One of the heroes in the Harrisburg City Islanders' comeback from three goals down in overtime and then prevail on penalty kicks? Former Galaxy goalkeeper Nick Noble, whom L.A. signed in December and released at the end of February, when Gaudette was signed. Noble stopped Benny Feilhaber's shot to clinch the victory. ... Second-year midfielder/defender Dan Keat is nursing a knee injury that has ruled him out of joining New Zealand's national team for the Oceania Nations Cup, which begins Friday in the Solomon Islands and doubles as the first stage of the region's World Cup qualifying tournament. ... David Beckham is on the cover of July's issue of Elle UK.