BY: Joe Cahal
Hollywood is the perfect setting for a sub-plot and the enduring ‘bro-mance’ between Stevie Gerrard and Luis Suarez played a key role in LA Galaxy’s record breaking clash against Barcelona on Tuesday night. The Catalans began their pre-season tour in front of 93,226 screaming fans at LA’s Rose Bowl – a record attendance at a US match featuring a domestic league team – and for the first time in their 115 year history, wore new jerseys with horizontal stripes instead of their traditional vertical.Whilst the majority of those present were in Barca’s famous red and blue and cheering on the European giants, a spirited and gutsy display by the Galaxy won the hearts of many new fans after a close 2-1 defeat in which the MLS side stayed competitive throughout.
The match reunited former Liverpool stars Suarez and Gerrard and the pair were pictured hugging each other and sharing a joke as the two teams took to the pitch and lapped up the rapturous adulation of the record crowd.
With Messi and Neymar excused from the tour, and Alves and Bravo other big name absentees, Suarez took the headline spot and lived up to his billing with a 45th minute goal to put Barca 1-0 up at the break. The Uruguayan was rested in the second half, as too his former Kop captain, Stevie G – but the pair’s affection for each other was clearly evident as they swapped shirts whilst leaving the pitch at the break.
Half-time saw Barca change seven players – introducing Andrés Iniesta and Gerard Piqué to proceedings – while the Galaxy made the most of the opportunity to blood younger players and swapped their entire eleven.
Sergi Roberto put the European Champions League holders 2-0 in the 56th minute, and though Barca controlled the match, the Galaxy reserves’ fight and determination to compete was rewarded with a consolation strike in injury time when Tommy Meyer headed home Mika Vayrynen’s cross.
A proud Galaxy coach Bruce Arena said afterwards: “Some of these kids are 19 years old, and it’s a fabulous experience for them. I don’t think [Robbie] Keane and Gerrard get as much out of these games as the younger players do.”
Arena’s comments were immediately backed up by Galaxy’s 20-year-old reserve team striker, Ariel Lassiter, who said: “I’m really speechless to be able to play on the same field with such great professional athletes, people I’ve watched on TV for so long. To be able to see where I want to be in the future, to imagine being in their shoes, just encourages me to work harder.”
Barcelona coach Luis Enrique was upbeat despite his team’s inability to hold on to a clean sheet against a team of 11 young reserves in the second half. “Considering we’ve only practised about seven days and had a lot of travelling, overall I come away with a good sensation,” he said. “I’m happy with the way the team played overall. The intensity was similar to what we’ve seen in practice.”