“We’re building a team for this year, and it has nothing to do with Landon not being here,” said Bruce Arena, rather sternly after the game. “Landon is obviously respected, and we appreciate everything he has done, but that is over.”

We’re building a team for this year, and it has nothing to do with Landon not being here.”
—Bruce Arena

As much as LA’s head coach would like us to all collectively forget about Landon Donovan, his retirement did raise a big question for the reigning champs: in the absence of their lead playmaker, could the LA Galaxy still get results?

Friday’s season opener served as a strong affirmative. Despite some trouble finishing, the Galaxy’s 2-nil victory over Chicago was exactly the sort of resounding win that should reassure fans.

The first half saw a flurry of chances for the Galaxy. Highlights included an Ishizaki bicycle attempt, a low ball across the goalmouth – just short of Gyasi and Keane – and Zardes going one-on-one with Chicago keeper Sean Johnson. The Fire stayed in the game by bringing nearly everyone back to defend, at times leaving Amarikwa the only player outside their defensive third. They turtled up and it worked: after 45 minutes, the scoreboard was still locked at zero all.

“In the first half we were pretty poor. It seemed like the occasion kind of got to us a little bit,” said Frank Yallop, Chicago’s head coach. “But I told the guys at half time: the good news is, it’s nil-nil.”

By minute sixty the Fire were clawing their way back in. Poor passes from LA’s midfield kept springing Chicago’s attack, and LA keeper Brian Rowe was tested a couple times. For a few nervy moments it looked like the Galaxy might wind up regretting those missed chances.

But in the 65th minute the home team pulled ahead. Ishizaki sent a curler around Chicago’s back line and directly into the path of Jose Villarreal, whose first touch found the net.

“I think Chicago started off the second half much better,” said Arena, post-game. “They put us under some pressure, so obviously Jose’s goal was big.”

Five minutes later Villarreal was subbed out to louder cheers than he’s heard before. Even putting aside the goal, he’d earned it: Villarreal’s hustle and off-the-ball movement was some of the best of the night.

Robbie Keane got the insurance goal in the 81st minute, when an errant head flick from Baggio Husidic turned out to be the absolute best move he could’ve made. It put Keane unmarked in front of the goal, and LA’s captain wasted no time sending it home.

It wasn’t all roses for the Galaxy. Between poor passes, miscommunications, and a lack of finishing, there’s plenty to work on — and the players hold no illusions about that:

“2014 is over, and we’ve got to focus on 2015,” said Jose Villareal afterward. “We’ve just got to get better every game, and we’re going to have a tough match against Portland so we’ve got to get better.”

The Galaxy travel north to square off against the Portland Timbers on Sunday, March 15th, at 4 PM.

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