For Galaxy fans who have been wondering precisely how it is that the Galaxy are in the top half of the table after four months of games in which almost every starter has either suffered an injury or been absent due to international call-ups, last night’s victory gave the answer as five different players scored a goal while several other players provided key assists. The Galaxy’s depth of experience and talent proved last night that when the Galaxy comes together its cumulative effort can dismantle any MLS opponent.
After 92 minutes of play, the scoreboard read 5-1, yet the Galaxy’s demolition of the Philadelphia Union on June 20 at the StubHub Center was not nearly so devastating a victory as the score-line suggests. This is perhaps fair in light of the numerous games the Galaxy have played this season where the team’s performance warranted more points than it got, e.g., the March 28 tie with DC United. Indeed, during the game’s first twenty-five minutes, the Union pressed the Galaxy hard and appeared the better side: the Galaxy were initially wasteful in possession and in front of goal, whereas the Union’s Maurice Edu, sporting a haircut seemingly inspired by Jurassic World’s Parasaurolophus, passed the ball crisply and deftly slipped into pockets of space to create chances for his team. Vincent Nogueria made several opportunistic runs through the Galaxy midfield and Union homegrown player Zach Pfeffer never appeared beaten, even late in the second half when the game was clearly out of reach for the Union.
“I think the score does not indicate the game correctly. I don’t think we were as dominate as the score would indicate. We were pretty sloppy in the game, but having said that, we finished some great goals. … We can play better than we did today.”
After the first half-hour, though, momentum shifted in the Galaxy’s favor and it never shifted back. Team unity shined as the players generously created chances for one another. Baggio Husidic, who has played more minutes for the Galaxy this season than any other player on the team, dished the ball to Gyasi Zardes in the 23rd minute and when Zardes’ shot hit the post Husidic pounced on the rebound for the first goal of the game. Twelve minutes later, Zardes passed the ball to the sweet Brazilian, Juninho, who lashed the ball into the back of the net. When Robbie Keane found himself cornered in the 56th minute by two defenders, the Irishman picked up his head to see Zardes in full sprint and smartly volleyed the ball to Zardes who leapt through the air to smash the ball home. A quintessential Omar Gonzalez header to Stefan Ishizaki in in the 59th minute garnered the Swede his first goal of the season, and Zardes picked up his second assist of the game a few minutes later when he slipped the ball to Sebastian Lletget to give the newcomer his third goal in as many games.
Indeed, the entire team contributed to the game’s outcome. The princely Panamanian, Jaime Penedo, made several clutch saves. Omar Gonzalez shored up the defense admirably. However, even though it was a collective effort, there were some standout performances worth mention.
It’s mea culpa time. Two years ago, I was torn as to whether Zardes would prove successful in MLS. Though Zardes is blessed with natural physical gifts, I was unsure whether his judgment and creativity were up to snuff. Even when Zardes went on a scoring tear last year, many of his goals seemed to be the byproduct of brilliance from Keane and Donovan. Last night Zardes silenced these doubts. Not only did Zardes absolutely terrorize the Union defense by regularly making twenty-yard sprints to beat the back line, he more importantly created chances for his colleagues through the exercise of sound judgment. When, in the 65th minute, three Union players were closing in on Zardes, he had several viable passing options and he critically made the right decision by passing the ball back to Lletget who was entering the final third unmarked. Who knows whether Zardes’ growth is due to hard work by Zardes, expert tutelage under Arena, Keane, and Donovan, a confidence boost resulting from Jurgen Klinsmann giving Zardes the chance to prove himself on the international stage, or a combination of all of the above, but Zardes is improving before our eyes and it is such a gratifying sight.
Fresh from a successful stint with the Guam national team, A.J. DeLaGarza, with a cockatoo-inspired haircut (I think he and Mo have the same barber), returned to the Galaxy fold and once again demonstrated why he is one of the most versatile and underrated defenders in MLS. In the thirteenth minute, the Union had an excellent chance at goal but DeLaGarza positioned himself in the exact right spot to close down the angle on the Union attack. DeLaGarza’s style is such that he perhaps will never be appreciated as much as his counterpart, Omar Gonzalez, but this Galaxy fan breathed easier knowing A.J. was in the backline.
Conclusions based on a small sample size are often erroneous, but it is certainly noteworthy that Sebastian Lletget has scored in each of his last three outings for the Galaxy (June 13 versus Columbus, this Wednesday versus PSA Elite, and last night versus the Union). For a player who’s been billed as a midfielder, three goals in five appearances is a promising statistic. Lletget is playing with a hunger spawned by the years he spent as a West Ham reserve player looking to break through to the first team.
Some fans may be surprised that Robbie Keane, who played all 92 minutes last night, did not tally a goal. It was certainly not for lack of effort as Keane came close to scoring on several occasions. In fact, the mere threat of Keane’s presence on the field opened up opportunities for his teammates. Towards the end of the second-half, the Union got a corner and as they prepared for their set piece, I noticed that two Union players stayed with Keane who was standing all the way back at the center midfield line. By sticking players close to Keane throughout the game, Jim Curtin was taking a calculated risk on the remaining Galaxy players’ ability to generate offensively without their captain. As it turned out, the risk did not pay off for the Union.
However, Keane’s frustration at repeatedly being stymied in the final third was apparent. In the 76th minute, Keane waved his hands to Penedo, signaling the keeper to send the ball down field to him. At the end of the game, Keane walked off the field with his head down, pausing only to sign autographs for fans. Keane, an instinctive forward, always wants to score goals, and his years in the game have done nothing to diminish his appetite for scoring. If I was a Portland Timbers fan, I would be worried: based on the look in his eyes at the end of last night’s game, Keano will be looking to score this Wednesday when the Galaxy square off against the Timbers at the StubHub Center.