“We became a team tonight,” LA Galaxy head coach Curt Onalfo said after his team came from a 2-0 deficit to draw with the Chicago Fire at StubHub Center on Saturday night. “That’s the Galaxy team that you’ll see moving forward. I think it was a galvanizing moment for our group.”
And with this message most likely falling hollow with most supporters, the guys in the locker room just might believe it. This, despite two of the team’s leaders leaving the field before halftime — for two different reasons.
If the Galaxy had wanted to draw up a plan as to how to start a game poorly, this game was it.
On a scramble inside the box in the 12th minute, Jelle Van Damme fouled the Fire’s Nemanja Nikolic to earn a penalty kick. David Accam buried it twice, the first one was waved off, and quickly gave the visitors a 1-0 lead.
Accam would return the favor three minutes later as Nikolic buried a shot from the run of play and just like that, it was 2-0. The Galaxy looked as lost and confused as when they went down by three goals to Seattle, weeks earlier.
Several players were caught out of position, and defender Daniel Steres was seen yelling at Van Damme on the second goal.
But Onalfo apparently had seen enough with his captain and subbed off Van Damme in the 33rd minute of the game. This was officially a tactical substitution and was not related to any injury.
“I expect our players to be right from minute one,” Onalfo explained in the post-game press conference. “I’m the leader of the team and if guys aren’t…I’m the leader of the team and I have to make substitutions to get our group to where it needs to be. I brought in Dave (Romney) and he did a solid job and we didn’t concede anymore and it ended up creating a lot of chances.”
It was a drastic solution that may have saved Onalfo’s job for the time being. But it also may have burned a bridge with one of the Galaxy’s biggest names and a guy who was a standout leader in 2016. He was promoted to captain after his success the previous year and received a raise but found himself as a tactical sub minutes into one of the most important games for the Galaxy this year.
The initial uproar for the sub was quieted by a solid performance from Romney and a defensive stand that remained the entirety of the game.
But when Jermaine Jones was hit with a clearance in the head, and fell to the ground, in and around the 40th minute, all seemed to be falling apart. Jones would need to be subbed minutes later — an apparent knee injury, although Onalfo didn’t have an update about his condition. Jones was seen limping around the locker room after the game congratulating teammates on their performance.
Emmanuel Boateng came into the game and the Galaxy reverted back to a 4-4-1-1 — out of the 4-2-3-1 they started the game with. Baggio Husidic and João Pedro combined in the center of midfield and the two of them both had very good games.
With Van Damme and Jones out, two players who have been rumored to be causing some of the strife in the locker room, the Galaxy simply found another gear and a work rate that was worthy of a team in Major League Soccer.
Spurred on by several good chances and with Romain Alessandrini, Giovani dos Santos, Husidic, and Pedro all clicking through the midfield the Galaxy ended up with eight corners on the night. And two of those corners got the galaxy back to level.
Daniel Steres, scoring his first goal of the season, took a corner from Alessandrini in the 56th minute and promptly buried it in the net past an outstretched Matt Lampson. This drew the Galaxy within one goal and seemingly upped the positive momentum they had carried since just before halftime.
This also ended a 252-minute scoreless streak the Galaxy had struggled with at home. Last scoring vs a 10-man Montreal Impact team almost a month earlier (April 7, 2016).
Nine minutes later, off another Alessandrini corner, Dos Santos finished a ball that was headed on by Romney. It was a good play from Romney to get the ball back across the net and Dos Santos, who scored his second goal of the season and his first goal from the run of play, was perfectly positioned to tie the game up.
In the end, it may not have been the best way to wrap up a three-game homestand in which the Galaxy earned just two points. But it also wasn’t the worst way. But questions will continue to be asked of Onalfo, and his team until something drastically changes. Dropping points at home in MLS is a recipe for missing the playoffs.
The Galaxy have five points from six home games and will now travel on the road to start a four-game road trip that will see them pass through two east coast towns (New York and Washington DC), a rivalry game (SJ Earthquakes), and a place they’ve never played before (Minnesota). Winning on the road in MLS is never guaranteed and even more so when the team isn’t anywhere close to a cohesive on-the-field product. What this team looks like after those four games are anyone’s guess. But one could easily imagine a trip that returns the Galaxy to StubHub Center on June 17th without a single point.
But it seems that a rift that has been opened for quite some time won’t close tonight. And if this Galaxy team is going to come together, then they’ll need to have guys like Jones and Van Damme on the field, won’t they?
The message from this 2-2 draw is that the Galaxy are still not a good team. But they did show some fight in their comeback and players that have been quiet or labeled as ill-fitting did seem to come together for 45-minutes tonight. But that was at the cost of some very expensive pieces for the team. And if Onalfo is to be believed, the team you’ll see going forward may be a different looking team then started the game tonight.
Only time will tell if benching the captain will have positive or negative repercussions, but on the night, it may just have been enough for this team to show something they haven’t shown much of on the year — teamwork, persistence, and tenacity. All attributes of that must be carried forward for the rest of the season.