PASADENA, Calif. (AP) — The record Rose Bowl crowd of 93,226 largely wore scarlet and blue, chanting and cheering on mighty Barcelona’s solid season-opening performance against the LA Galaxy.
By the final minutes, many of those same fans were roaring for the local team’s reserves as they stayed competitive with a European superpower.
Luis Suarez scored in the 45th minute, and Barcelona opened its U.S. preseason tour with a 2-1 victory over the defending MLS champions Tuesday night.
Sergi Roberto also scored in the 56th minute as the UEFA Champions League winners largely controlled their first match of the new year, delighting the biggest crowd for a club soccer game involving an MLS team in U.S. history.
“Considering we’ve only practiced about seven days and had a lot of traveling, overall I come away with a good sensation,” Barcelona coach Luis Enrique said through a translator. “I’m happy with the way the team played overall. The intensity was similar to what we’ve seen in practice.”
The record crowd largely supported Barcelona despite the absence of Lionel Messi and Neymar, who stayed home from the International Champions Cup tour to stay fresh for the games that count. Dani Alves and Claudio Bravo also were unavailable because of the Gold Cup.
Yet the Galaxy took consolation in a solid effort despite missing several of their own regulars — and their second-half lineup filled with youngsters even got a goal. Tommy Meyer scored on a header off a pass from Mika Vayrynen late in second-half injury time, denying Barcelona of a clean sheet.
“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,” said Ariel Lassiter, a 20-year-old forward from the Galaxy’s reserve team. “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.”
MLS MVP Robbie Keane and new arrival Steven Gerrard played the first half for the Galaxy, who were short-handed with four regulars and new signee Giovani Dos Santos all away on Gold Cup international duty.
Barcelona substituted seven players at halftime, using Gerard Pique and Andres Iniesta, while the Galaxy changed their entire lineup, largely using development team players.
The Galaxy still hung in against the mighty La Liga champions despite struggling for shots, markedly improving on their 7-0 loss to Manchester United on the same field a year ago.
“Some of these kids are 19 years old, and it’s a fabulous experience for them,” Galaxy coach Bruce Arena said. “I don’t think Keane and Gerrard get as much out of these games as the younger players do.”
Gerrard teamed with Suarez at Liverpool two seasons ago, and the former Reds shared a hug while taking the field before trading jerseys at halftime.
Barcelona arrived in Southern California just two days ago, and soccer fan Kobe Bryant visited their training Monday. The Lakers great also stopped by the Galaxy’s workout to meet Gerrard.
Barcelona also debuted its new home jerseys with horizontal blue-and-red stripes, flouting 115 seasons of vertical-stripe tradition with the Nike kits.
Barcelona dominated possession from the opening minutes and held LA without a shot in the first half, but the Galaxy hung on despite missing star defender Omar Gonzalez with the U.S. national team.
Suarez finally broke through when he controlled an over-the-head pass from Marc Bartra and knocked it past Rowe shortly before halftime.
The Galaxy began their existence with home games at the Rose Bowl in 1996, but they’ve lost all four of their exhibitions against European powers at the famed stadium since they moved south to Carson’s StubHub Center in 2003.
Barcelona beat the Galaxy 2-1 at the Rose Bowl in 2009, with another pro-Barca crowd booing former Real star David Beckham every time he touched the ball.
Enrique declined to give an update on the status of Pedro, only saying he had spoken to the forward about his playing future. Manchester United reportedly is targeting the Spanish international.
“I’m not going to say what I said, or what he told me,” Enrique said of Pedro, who played the first half. “It’s the decision of the player. When he says something, then I’ll say something.”
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