The LA Galaxy may have just added some momentum to a late-season run with Giovani dos Santos providing the firepower and Landon Donovan providing the theater. Dos Santos scored two goals and added another two assists in a 4-2 performance for Los Angeles in what is shaping up to be a strong season for the sometimes invisible playmaker.
With multiple games played in the last week, Bruce Arena looked to a midfield of “youngsters” to matchup against Orlando City on Sunday afternoon in Carson. Raul Mendiola, Rafa Garcia, Sebastian Lletget and Emmanuel Boateng all got starts. Moving players like Baggio Husidic and Jeff Larentowicz to the bench for some rest.
Another familiar face, Jelle Van Damme, started his first game since injury forced him out of the LA Galaxy’s match with Vancouver on August 27th. And Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan both sat on LA’s bench awaiting Bruce’s call.
The rest of the lineup, save perhaps Alan Gordon as the lone striker, was as expected. And Giovani dos Santos would once again get to roam the center of the field looking for opportunities to go forward.
However, things would not go as planned for the Galaxy. Despite dominating possession and early chances, they were unable to find a goal right away. And thanks to a lapse in judgment by the right side of the Galaxy’s defense, Orlando found the opening goal in the 20th minute when Kevin Molino punched a rebound back into the goal past Jelle Van Damme and Brian Rowe. It was a play that very well could’ve been offside, but wasn’t flagged as such. And it was a play that should’ve seen a better effort on defense.
Apparently, this was the wake-up call the LA Galaxy needed. Dos Santos was first on the scoresheet in the 35th minute when Brian Rowe distributed the ball quickly from his penalty box to Jelle Van Damme. Van Damme looked quickly upfield to see a streaking Ema Boateng. With Van Damme’s pass secured Boateng raced down the left-hand side, occasionally tucking in, so he could find some room to make a wonderful cross to Dos Santos who was trailing the play. Gio easily passed the ball into the back of the net for the equalizer.
“He’s doing very well. This was a little bit of an issue, but I think he’s now a year into playing on a full time basis. As heralded as he was and is, he has not played on a regular basis in his club careers. Now he’s a year in and this season is probably the fullest season he’s had in his career. And now he’s a year in. This season is probably the fullest season he’s had in his career. And you can see that he’s now getting fitter, getting more experienced, understanding this league and understanding the things that he needs to do to make himself a better player and also make our team a better team. And you can see that happening. He has 14 goals now. For that position, that’s pretty good. In that position, strikers usually score that many goals and he’s not a striker. It’s pretty good stuff.” Bruce Arena, LA Galaxy Head Coach
Just three minutes later, off a rejected corner kick, Dos Santos would again be involved in a scoring play. Boateng held the Dos Santos corner into the offensive zone before passing it left. Giovani dos Santos made a quick little pass inside to Van Damme, who put a rocket of a cross towards Alan Gordon. Gordon used all of his body to push the ball into the goal, score his 50th MLS goal, and flip the game on its head with the Galaxy now leading 2-1.
Gordon and Dos Santos would pair up again, just before halftime. With all the momentum leading towards the LA Galaxy, Dos Santos played Gordon into space behind Orlando’s backline. José Aja came charging over towards Gordon and fouled him near the top of the penalty box. Gordon pulled up the landing gear and went down forcing referee Ismail Elfath to make a decision. Elfath pointed to the penalty spot and issued Aja a yellow card, although replays clearly showed the contact outside the box. The break went LA’s way and Giovani dos Santos stepped up to bury his 2nd goal of the night, sending Orlando ‘keeper Joe Bendik the other way. Before the half, it was 3-1 and the Galaxy were dominating.
They would add a fourth goal as Robbie Keane, who entered for Alan Gordon in the 60th minute — Keane’s first game action since the LA Galaxy’s 1-0 defeat to New York City FC back on August 20th (Keane missed a total of 4 games during this injury and international absence), scored a goal that was once again, assisted by Giovani dos Santos and Sebastian Lletget. It was a pinpoint pass by Lletget that caught Orlando flatfooted and saw both Dos Santos and Keane running towards net. A simple first touch to Keane, around a charging Bendik, gave Robbie Keane an open look and an easy finish.
And the scoreline, now 4-1, would be the perfect situation to bring in, the much anticipated, Landon Donovan. Donovan entered for Raul Mendiola in the 82nd minute to a loud ovation. And while he struggled to match the pace of the match’s final minutes, it was an important step if the LA is to realize any benefit from Donovan’s return.
The Galaxy would only be marred by one more blemish on the night. And that was the stoppage time goal that saw Brek Shea score for Orlando to bring the final score just a bit closer, but still out of reach. It is the third stoppage time goal that LA has allowed in its last three games and it continues to be a reason for concern headed down the stretch and into the playoffs.
Dos Santos would finish the game with two goals and two assists leaving him with 14 goals and 11 assists in 2016. And for a player who’s been largely absent for long stretches during the season, it was good for LA to see him coming to life at the right time.
The LA Galaxy will next travel to take on Sporting KC on Sunday, September 18th at 11AM Pacific. That game will be broadcast on FOX.
MAN OF THE MATCH
This was one of the toughest decisions of the year in terms of who stood out. Giovani Dos Santos had the numbers, Jelle Van Damme had some playmaking and Rafael Garcia was like a wet blanket on Kaka all night. And some might even give Landon Donovan the nod because the atmosphere was certainly electric and the crowd came to see him.
But in a nod to his work rate over the last two or three games, and with the numbers to back it up, Dos Santos is our guy once again for the LA Galaxy.
He’s been able to play in his position, with Robbie Keane still coming back from injury, and that has made all the difference. He has seven goals in his last seven games and has been racking up the assists as well — three assists in his last three games. But his work on the defensive side of the ball, and his hustle may have him on the cusp of an MVP race. Although in my book, there’s only one Gio who can win that race (Sebastian Giovinco).
“I feel like I am in the best moment of my career, I’ve never felt this way. I feel very good, my finish is good. The team is doing good so I feel great right now.” Giovani dos Santos, LA Galaxy Midfielder
But don’t overlook the playmaking of Jelle Van Damme on the night. The Galaxy have missed his dominance on defense and his help on both offensive and defensive set pieces. But he’s a leader as well, and the Galaxy play better when he’s on the field. He’s most likely the team MVP, so seeing him come out of this game to continue his recovery was a good thing.
“I used to be a striker when I was young, so maybe that’s the thing that keeps me going forward. I like going forward when I can. In the last five years on my old team, I played as a fullback and that was very offensive. Once in a while, you like going up front. Bruce tells me to pick my moments, and that’s what I try to do.” Jelle Van Damme, LA Galaxy Defender
And almost no one will highlight him, but Rafa Garcia was tasked with shutting down a world-class player on Sunday afternoon. And he executed that gameplan to perfection. Everywhere Kaka went, so did Garcia. The chippy fouls and the constant contact forced Kaka out of his rhythm and in turn Orlando out of theirs. He played a game that coaches and players will cheer, but fans will rarely recognize. But Garcia did what needed to be done and he executed it to perfection.
QUOTE OF THE MATCH
Bruce Arena on the play of his over thirty players:
“Two goals from guys over 30…is there a rule against that? Manchester United has a pretty good striker that’s about 35-36 years old. This age stuff is kind of stupid I think. To a certain degree, you’ve got to understand there are some issues associated with older players in professional sports. You see it all the time, but at the club level in soccer it can be done. It’s done all the time. I can probably name a dozen players of high quality…easily a dozen players of high quality in their thirties and some that are in their mid-thirties. You don’t want to field a complete team of players of those ages, but I don’t think we spend a whole lot of time thinking about that, although it is a point of consideration for sure.”
It was the perfect scoreline for Donovan to get his 12 minutes of play. But it was also completely unnecessary from a play standpoint. There are only two reasons why playing Donovan, a man who hasn’t played a competitive match for 21 months, and who hasn’t been training with the Galaxy for more than a few days, was a good idea.
First, he needed to understand how much quicker the game is played when you’re not on the training field. And he needed to understand that game pace is something he doesn’t have right now. That’s good for him and the score allowed that learning lesson.
Second, from the Public Relations standpoint, it was good to parade him in front of the crowd, let him wave, let people cheer and now not feel any pressure to play him again. Because his contribution to this team is going to be about how quickly he can get up to speed and how quickly his fitness returns. Because the man who was introduced onto the field in the 82nd minute does not have that opportunity if the Galaxy were tied or needed a goal. It’s that simple.
“Did you watch me play? I need to get fit. I came into a game where both teams were exhausted and I was the slowest player on the field. So I need to get myself ready to compete in a real way. Bruce and the coaching staff need to know that when they put me in, it can mean something. So tonight worked out well. But I need to be able to contribute.” Landon Donovan, LA Galaxy Striker
Patience will be key, and getting LD minutes should not be high on Arena’s priority list. It’s going to be a balance of situations and scorelines.