The LA Galaxy snapped a six-game losing streak when a late go-ahead goal from rookie Kai Koreniuk gave them the stoppage-time lead. But did the win come too late?
CARSON, Calif. — The LA Galaxy put together a tedious 90 minutes of soccer on Sunday night at Dignity Health Sports Park. But the single minute of excitement saw rookie Kai Koreniuk score his first career MLS goal, in stoppage time, and saw the Galaxy snap their six-game losing streak as they defeated the Vancouver Whitecaps by a final score of 1-0.
It was an interesting finish to a game that started with many, many question marks. The biggest was if Galaxy head coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto would last beyond the match, with rumors pointing to his dismissal sweeping across the internet throughout the latter half of the week.
For his part, Schelotto decided to bench Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez in favor of Colombian Yony Gonzalez.
Hernandez, and his roughly $15-million salary and transfer fee, would make an impact in the second half, but not before the Galaxy would slowly cobble together a patchwork of defense and a studied and deliberate midfield to slow the Whitecaps down.
“He’s on the bench because I decide to play with just one striker,” Schelotto explained about the decision to start Yony over Hernandez. “I thought Gonzalez was better than him.”
Giancarlo Gonzalez started for the first time since July as he pushed Nick DePuy to the bench at central defense, and Efrain Alvarez came into the midfield.
Sacha Kljestan, who looked all of his 35-years-old last match against San Jose, came up with his most nuanced performance in a Galaxy kit. He pressed, along with Perry Kitchen, into the Whitecaps midfield and broke up plays, and dished passes for all 90 minutes.
“Well, I think tactically tonight, playing in a 4-3-3, having Perry and Sebastian in there, for the most part, was good because it gave us a little bit more balance in the team and balance in the midfield and little more organization against the ball,” Klejstan explained.
“But I felt good. It was nice to start to feel fresh again and to get the rhythm of playing. I hadn’t started a game really, I think, since Orlando. So to play three games now, I’m starting to get my legs underneath me again. I’m really tired. I think I covered a lot of ground tonight. But I gave all that I could. I’m going to sleep well tonight, that’s for sure.”
But despite the solid performances from a few, and the uninspiring performance from many, it all came down to the last 15 minutes. While the Galaxy outshot Vancouver 18 to seven, it was five to five on goal and a flurry of chances late for the home team.
Johnathan Klinsmann came up with four saves, backing up his seven-save performance from the previous match while securing his first MLS shutout. He’s pressing for the starting spot, now that David Bingham has been relegated to the bench, and it’s something that seems within reach for the 23-year-old.
With Yony having to come off at the 50-minute mark due to an unknown injury — possibly a right ankle or calf injury — Chicharito took over as the sole striker with more energy than he’s shown in recent games.
Starting in the 78th-minute, Hernandez would get three good chances on goal. Mixed in with a chipped shot off the crossbar from Cristian Pavon, the Galaxy applied all the right kind of pressure on Vancouver. But they couldn’t breakthrough, and all their passes seemed to be a half-yard from perfection. And while they pressed, Vancouver would occasion push back on a quick counter-attack.
Chicharito skied two of those good chances and had another blocked inside the box. His 20 touches in 40 minutes outpaced Yony’s 18 touches in 50 minutes of play. But whatever motivation Schelotto was hoping to gain from benching Hernandez, at least in some small part, seemed to work. Still, Hernandez finished without a goal and showed some real nerves in front of the net. And on the night, the Mexican Designated Player wouldn’t solve the Galaxy’s goalscoring problems.
No, that job would be left to 22-year-old Daytona Beach, Florida-native, Koreniuk.
Koreniuk, who played a total of one minute before this match, entered with three minutes left. And in the first minute of stoppage time, and off an assist from Araujo and Pavon, Koreniuk would bury the tap-in to give the Galaxy the win.
“I was very excited to come on,” a gleeful Koreniuk explained — his smile could be felt from behind his mask. “And I wanted to bring a lot of energy to the team and the game. I saw the ball go out wide, and I was like ‘I’m just going to get in the box and get my foot on it,’ and that’s what I did. It was awesome that I got to take advantage of those four minutes.”
There are still many questions to be asked regarding this Galaxy team. The least of which is whether Schelotto will be the long-term manager or if the Galaxy are ready to make a change. The club is still three points from a playoff spot and continue to anchor the Western Conference in last place.
And with games against LAFC, Portland, Real Salt Lake, and Seattle coming within the next 18 days, the schedule won’t let up for this team as they stare at MLS’s final day of play — Decision Day — on November 8.
Hernandez is also a question mark. While he did better in his 40 minutes of play than he’s shown for some time, he’s still not the goalscoring threat the Galaxy are paying for. And if it wasn’t for a González injury, Chicharito might have never made this game at all. Can the Galaxy afford to hold onto the team’s highest-paid player if he’s relegated a to a super-sub role?
Schelotto isn’t biting on that decision. Not yet.
“It’s too soon to check individual performances,” he said when pressed on Chicharito’s performance. “I can’t answer a lot of that. We check tomorrow morning when we come here, and we make a study about the game.
“It was important for the team to win, and maybe he will feel a little less pressure because everyone was talking about him, and I think this will be very good for him to get confidence and to be calm.”
But accountability, for now, will have to wait. After all, the Galaxy, according to Kljestan, can still make this season interesting.
“Like I said last week after the loss,” Kljestan explained, “in MLS, anything is possible. You win three games in a row, and you’re back in the playoff picture. So one game at a time, but a good step in the right direction tonight.”