Where would the LA Galaxy be without Ola Kamara?
The simple answer, at least for today, is without three points from Montreal. It was Kamara’s 75-minute goal that was the difference in a game that saw two struggling sides struggle to find a rhythm on a Monday afternoon.
“I love scoring,” Kamara told reporters after the game. “It’s the best feeling ever and even if I’m playing on the wing, I’m trying to get in striker positions all the time.
“When Zlatan got the red card, I played on top and I was able to get a match-winning goal,” he continued. “It was a great feeling for me.”
And it was made all the more impressive as the Galaxy (4-6-1) had to play the game with just 10-men after the Galaxy’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic received a much-deserved red card in the 41-minute after slapping Impact player Michael Petrasso. Petrasso may have deserved the little flick as he was stomping on the Swedish striker’s foot but the red card was the easiest of calls for referee Ismail Elfath and VAR.
“Any time you play a man down like that, everybody digs a little bit deeper,” Galaxy head coach Sigi Schmid explained after the game. “And we talked about this being an adverse situation and we want to define our character now.”
And, in many ways, that’s when the Galaxy started playing team soccer – in an adverse situation.
After losing four games in-a-row, it took a five and half hour plane ride without both Ashley Cole and Giovani dos Santos to set themselves on a collision-course with the struggling Impact. And it took losing a man just before a scoreless half to see the team start to defend as a single unit.
Schmid sent out a starting lineup that included the MLS debut of Emrah Klimenta at right-back, and the 50th overall club appearance for left-back Dave Romney. Michael Ciani and Jorgen Skjelvik filled out the rest of the defense in front of goalkeeper David Bingham.
Ibrahimovic patrolled up top.
The first half was littered with half-chances, bad passes, and continual misunderstandings from the attack and midfield, and sustained pressure from the Galaxy’s defense.
Frustrated yelling from Ibrahimovic and Alessandrini eventually gave way to demonstrative hand signals and what seemed like an endless string of cursing under their collective breaths.
But it was still a half that saw the Galaxy edge the Impact on possession and limit Ignazio Piatti to just a few dangerous chances.
“I think it was about getting to break at zero-zero and reorganize so the whole team can talk,” Kamara said. “And we did that.”
The change or reorganization — the red card to Ibrahimovic — would shift that possession in favor of the home team and force the Galaxy into two strong rows of four players each, with Kamara keeping a close watch from the top of the formation.
And while the Impact would outshoot the Galaxy 22 to 7 on the night and 5 to 4 on target, the visitors would weather the storm behind superb defensive performances by Romney, Ciani, and Skjelvik. With all three routinely stepping into the path’s of shots or tracking runners deep into the box.
Klimenta, the only defender who seemed out of his depth at the time, still did some good things on the afternoon. But that’s what MLS debuts will do to a player — force them into mistakes and show that the level up from USL is a big step.
Kitchen also deserves some kudos on the night as he was able to corral dos Santos into defending consistently. That’s after a first-half that saw some of the biggest mistakes come through Lletget, Kitchen and dos Santos — perhaps overloaded from the slack midfield pressure.
Schmid got bold with the changes and went to his bench in the 64-minute, with the game still scoreless, to bring on Emmanuel Boateng and Chris Pontius in place of Lletget and Alessandrini.
Alessandrini was seen walking past the handshakes of coaches as he entered the bench area and he kicked a water bottle on the sidelines. His frustrations seemingly boiling to the top — and after one of his better games. Alessandrini was able to break down the Impact’s defense and played well on both sides of the ball in his time on the field.
But Schmid still forced his exit and ultimately was proven right for the game.
Boateng was an especially effective sub. He was able to use his blistering pace to open up space, and despite his five-foot-six frame, got the key assist on a header to Kamara who was able to beat to defenders and Impact ‘keeper Evan Bush for the games only goal.
The Galaxy were then able to kill off the rest of the game, dodging shot after shot, on their way to their first three points in 38 days.
The Galaxy are now 3-0-0 in games where they score the first goal. By comparison, they are 1-6-0 in games where they conceded first. And this marks the third shutout of the season behind the win over Chicago and the scoreless draw in Vancouver.
Bingham was forced to make five saves, and despite a few errant goal kicks, was near-flawless on the afternoon.
Lost in the celebrating after the game is that the Impact are a bad team. They entered the game having lost seven of their last nine and have the worst defense in the league. And the loss to the Galaxy on their 25th anniversary of the creation of the club, won’t sit well for them.
But overall, the Galaxy did something they haven’t done in awhile; they won a game they were supposed to win. And they relied on a striker who has been consistently been excellent, has scored a team-high five goals, and has now scored in four straight games.
So with Kamara on the field, and with Ibrahimovic missing this week’s Cali-Clasico, perhaps the Galaxy may have figured out something very, very important for the 2018 season.
“We need that feeling, that momentum in the team,” Kamara said of the win. “And I think we got that now and maybe that gives us some confidence going into the next games.”
The Galaxy will charter a plane back to Los Angels and prepare for the short week against the San Jose Earthquakes on Friday (8 p.m. PT; UniMas).