KISSIMMEE, Fla. — The LA Galaxy wanted a fresh start on Monday night at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Florida. They wanted a fresh start to forget about their winless streak that started this COVID-19-effected season, and they wanted a fresh start for one of their star players.
But even with Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez’s first goal in Major League Soccer, and despite playing up a man for the final 15 minutes of the match, in a stadium completely devoid of fans, the Galaxy couldn’t come up with the three points against the Portland Timbers in their first match of Group F. And that fresh start now feels like a continuation of the problems the team faced in March before the season was put on hold.
“We don’t deserve to lose today,” Galaxy head coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto told reporters via a video call after the match. “We gave them the opportunity to score the goals because we needed to be more intense.”
And in some ways, Schelotto is correct when speaking of the 2-1 final scoreline.
Hernandez, who scored in 88th-minute, was not sharp on the night. He had a penalty kick saved after Portland defender Dario Zuparic blocked a shot from Cristian Pavon with his hands in 11th minute — Zuparic’s first of two yellow cards — and then skied a chance from the opposite penalty spot during the run-of-play shortly after halftime. Until he finally tapped in substitute Gordon Wild’s cross with almost no time left for the Galaxy to mount a comeback.
The Galaxy also scored two other goals in the second half that were both correctly ruled offside.
But in the end, the Timbers didn’t need many chances. They finished twice in seven minutes, and both times exploited lax defending and poor positioning.
Their first goal, scored by Jeremy Ebobisse, was a lesson in ball-watching. A cross from Sebastian Blanco from deep inside the penalty box went through four Galaxy defender before being “thighed” home by Ebobisse from about four yards away in the 59th-minute. And their second was Blanco’s will and determination to fight through half-hearted tackles from Galaxy defenders Emiliano Insúa and Giancarlo Gonzalez in the 66th-minute.
Ultimately, it was Pavon and 17-year-old Carson, CA native, Cameron Dunbar, who really put on a show throughout the match. Pavon was his typical self-creating attacking player. He was dangerous with the ball at his feet, and most of the chances were from his play.
But Dunbar, who never looked out of place on a field playing with players twice his age, was dynamic. He attacked smartly, moved quickly, and threatened Portland’s defense over and over again. His lightning-quick feet found no equal on the field, and his vision, for not even cresting 20 years of age, was exceptional.
Perry Kitchen and Sasha Kljestan were serviceable in the middle, but Kitchen gives the Galaxy nothing going forward and, more often than not, will misplace an outlet pass. Kljestan, at 34-years-old, was asked to be a box-to-box midfielder and rarely found the pass that unlocked any opposition defense. And with Sebastian Lletget on the right side of midfield, failing to make any measurable impact, the Galaxy were forced to bypass the midfield altogether when Dunbar wasn’t involved.
Dan Steres highlighted the best of the defense on a night when few chances seemed overly dangerous until the Galaxy were lulled into picking the ball out of the back of the net.
Schelotto, offering no real answers as to why his team failed to meet the moment after the game, seems perplexed at the team’s lack of “intensity.” And in the heat and humidity of the Orlando swamplands, Schelotto made just two substitutions on the night — the competition rules allowed for five. Thereby making the Galaxy the only team to have used so few subs through the first 11 games of this tournament.
Chicharito was ready to take the blame, and rightfully so. “Sometimes the chemistry isn’t there,” he said after the match. “Sometimes, the individual performances aren’t good, starting with me.” But in all, this feels like a performance the Galaxy were more than capable of making during their first two games of the season.
And little to no progress isn’t something Galaxy fans will wear lightly.