It was a quiet night in Fresno before LA and San Jose took the field. The Californian rivals met halfway down the 5 and put on 60 minutes of a good show. At their worst the Galaxy fumbled passes, stumbled defensively, and looked every bit an awkward preseason squad. But as the minutes wore on the gaffes gave way to good soccer. Passes connected, movements started to sync up. And armed with an unrelenting, unpredictable attack, LA came away with a 2-1 victory.

Gyasi Zardes was the story of the night, and deservedly so — apart from looking cool and collected up top, he also netted himself the game winning goal in the 54th minute. It’s a goal worth watching as Zardes races through the Quakes’ defensive line and lets fly toward the back post. Without the goal, Gyasi would’ve had a good night. With it, he had a great one.

“I just started running at the defender and I saw he gave me my right side, so I just pushed the ball past him. I glanced up at the keeper and looked at the back post and just aimed for it.”
—Gyasi Zardes

Maybe it’s the heart-shaped sign Zardes flashed at the crowd after his goal, but I’m a little high on Gyasi right now. Is this the season he lives up to the potential he’s shown? It’s too early to say — too early, for now. LA are blessed with a crowded roster of talented strikers and Zardes will have to fight his way into the lineup. But his performance tonight, at least, did not go unnoticed:

“Last year was a good start for him. We saw glimpses of his potential, but now it’s time that he come into his own and start playing like the player he can be. He’s looked really good in the preseason and we expect a big year from him.”
—Landon Donovan on Zardes

Indulge me for a second. Let’s talk wingers.

Donovan started on the left and offseason-signing Stefan Ishizaki started right. Within 15 minutes of kick-off it was clear: these two are not afraid to tuck in. Sarvas and Juninho played in the center but often found themselves on the outside, as the two roaming wingers turned a typically staid LA midfield into a rotating, revolving, uncatchable serpent.

If I’m getting poetic (and I am), it’s only because I’m excited. What Donovan and Ishizaki did to the middle line resulted in some of the most unpredictable and imaginative movement I’ve seen from the Galaxy. Tonight it was just as often clumsy as it was sharp, but there’s a clear sense of where this is going. And it’s far, far removed from LA’s repetitive “feed the forwards” strategy of 2013.

“You need to play a lot with the guys to learn how they move, how they want to pass the ball, how they want to get it…”
—Stefan Ishizaki

There’s more. There was the good — check out Marcelo’s powerful finish on the opening goal. And there was the bad — the defense had a rough night, with Omar especially getting beaten as often as not. There’s certainly work to be done. But tonight, at least, the disparate parts started clicking together.

More important than the score is the impression I can’t shake an hour later — that there is a vision for how LA will play in 2014, and we just got a good glimpse of it. I said we’d start getting answers and I think we have our first: The starting line-up is settling into place. Swap in Keane, and Penedo. Make a wild guess about which target forward gets the nod.

You end up with a pretty good idea of who to expect on the field, as the whistle blows, March 8th.

“Beyond the score and the outcome, I think it’s a good positive message to send our group anytime we play San Jose. You want to make sure that they know it’s a real game and we take it serious, and I thought the attitude of our team was really good and the performance was really good.”
—Landon Donovan

 

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