KANSAS CITY, Mo. (July 8, 2018) - In a barnburner of a game, LA Galaxy U-18/19 captain Alex Mendez ensured that the SoCal giants would return to the Academy Championships final for the second-straight year. The U.S. Under-20 Men's National Team midfielder nailed the game-winning goal on a free kick in extra time as the Galaxy took down Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2-0.

In the day's final game, 90 minutes wasn't enough to find a winner. Nineteen minutes into extra time, the hero role fell to Mendez. His left-footed shot in the 110th minute broke the scoreless battle and sent the LA bench into a frenzy.

"I'm on free kicks," Mendez said. "I get on the ball and I have to relax and get (the ball) on the goal. And it went in. I know our team's grit. No victory is ever handed to you. It's always won with hard work, and that's what our team did."

Until Mendez's strike, the game's biggest moment came from the hands of Galaxy goalkeeper Eric Lopez.

In the 57th, the game's only penalty kick was awarded to the Whitecaps. The chance from the spot was the first imminent chance for either team. Vancouver's Thelonius Bair was taken down inside the box and Michael Baldisimo stepped up to take the kick. Lopez correctly dove to his right, denying Baldisimo's prime scoring opportunity.

The following 53 minutes continued to be a back-and-fourth affair, as each team pushed for a breakthrough.

"In a highly contested game like this, you have to make plays," LA Galaxy head coach Brian Kleiban said. "I think all of your players, from the goalkeeper, to the defenders, to the forwards, everybody made plays on both sides of the box.

"We had to be true to ourselves and our identity. We had to keep combining, keep passing all the way into the final third instead of forcing things. We knew we were going to create chances."

The Galaxy tallied an insurance goal four minutes into stoppage time following extra time. Ulysses Llanez played a ball to Efrain Alvarez, who blasted it home to put an exclamation point on the Galaxy victory.

With 14 players returning from last year's Academy Championships, the squad will once again look to take home the national title. LA will meet New York City FC in Tuesday's final.