Dominic Kinnear stepped in as interim manager for the second time in three years and was given the difficult task of trying to end the Galaxy’s dreadful season on a high note.
They started the game off on a strong foot and looked to be playing with inspiration after their recent poor form. Sebastian Lletget emphasized in the post-game press conference that Kinnear did very well to prepare the group on a short turnaround and simplified the game to get the Galaxy back to basics.
The scoring opened from an unlikey hero as Giancarlo Gonzalez headed home a free kick service from Sebastian Lletget. The goal marked Gonzalez’s first of the season and provided some much needed confidence for a Galaxy side who has been short on goals.
Cristian Pavon added to the tally in the second half with a superb run starting at the midfield line that showcased his speed and technique as he slotted in his goal.
The Galaxy lost a bit of their focus as the second half wore on, which allowed RSL to get a goal back. The Galaxy ultimately held on to keep their slim playoff hopes alive. Thanks to the newly adopted points per game format for the 2020 MLS standings.
Let’s take a look at how the players fared on the night.
TOP OF THE CLASS
The last time that you saw Giancarlo “Pipo” Gonzalez on ‘Grading the Galaxy’, he had earned zero stars for his brief appearance and red card during the last El Trafico. This time around, Gonzalez finds himself on the opposite end of the spectrum due to his contributions both offensively and defensively.
Gonzalez opened the scoring for the Galaxy with a well-placed header in the 18th minute as he read the ball perfectly through the heavy traffic in the box. The goal likely gave Gonzalez some much-needed confidence as he has had a turbulent season with the club.
The goal, however, was not Gonzalez’s most important play of the night. He darted back in the 50th minute to make a an acrobatic goal-line clearance after David Bingham was chipped.
Gonzalez’s confidence may have also been due to a position change as he was playing on the right side of the center back pairing. Kinnear mentioned that the move was because Gonzalez was more comfortable on the right side and his play confirmed that sentiment.
Cristian Pavon put in an excellent shift wreaking havoc along the wings and netting his tenth goal of the season. Earlier in the week, Pavon was nominated as the Galaxy’s representative for Most Valuable Player and has proven that he is worthy of the nomination.
The LA Galaxy were heavily out-possessed in this match as they only held possession for 35.5% of the match. However, the Galaxy are at their best when they are able to absorb pressure and then spring Pavon on the counter attack.
There were several opportunities where Pavon was sent into the attack, but he was finally rewarded in the 65th minute as he brought down the ball from an Emiliano Insua interception and made magic happen darting past the RSL defense and easily slotting home the eventual game winner.
One of the main critiques of Jonathan dos Santos this season has been that he had not looked like the same player he was in previous seasons. In this match, dos Santos looked to be back. He was hunting down the ball as he tracked back and providing service into the attack with smart passes into the counter-attack.
Dos Santos held a 85% pass success rate on 35 passes and was finding his teammates with long balls and turning in tight corners to shield the ball and rescue the Galaxy from difficult situations.
Unfortunately, he had to exit the match in the 60th minute due to an injury. It was a blow to the team to see their captain exit the game early, especially given that he was having one of his best games of the season.
As dos Santos walked gingerly to the locker room, he appeared to indicate with hand gestures that he may be dealing with a pulled muscle. The Galaxy confirmed on Monday that he suffered a left calf-strain and would be listed as questionable for the two remaining games.
Julian Araujo continued to impress in what is becoming his breakout season. Araujo was reliable in multiple positions throughout the match and is truly a joy to watch in action and develop right before our eyes.
Araujo led the team with touches as he started the game at right-back and shifted into the right midfield role in the second half. As good as Araujo has been on defense, he may be even better when he is playing in the midfield.
Aruajo also led the team in duels won as he was easily picking the pocket of the opposition. He also showcased his speed as he pushed the ball around the defender several times and sprinted around them to set himself up for a cross into the attack.
The one drawback on Araujo is that his crosses are not always the most accurate, but he is absolutely doing everything right in the lead up to these crosses. If he continues to make those plays with more consistency, he will start to find his target more efficiently.
Yony Gonzalez started the match on the right side of the midfield marking the first time since joining the team that Gonzalez played in the position that he was acquired for. This tactical change proved to be effective as Gonzalez was having one of his best games since joining the club prior to being subbed off in the 57th minute.
Being subbed off in the 57th minute is the only reason that Gonzalez lands in the needs improvement category. Kinnear mentioned in the post game press conference that there was nothing wrong with Gonzalez, it was just that he looked tired.
Prior to the substitution, he led the team in shots and was using his large frame to win aerial duels with his physicality and work rate. Fans should hope to see this renewed Gonzalez continue to build on this success as the Galaxy face another tough opponent in the middle of the week.
David Bingham returned to the starting lineup after Jonathan Klinsmann allowed five goals in the embarrassing defeat to the Portland Timbers on Wednesday evening.
While the Galaxy earned the victory, it was in no part to any contributions from Bingham. Salt Lake had nine total shots on the night, but only managed to have one shot on target. The one shot on target was enough for RSL to score and led to Bingham registering zero saves for the game.
If Bingham remains in his starting role, he will need to step up when called upon because he did not answer the call when he was asked to do so in this match.
Since Yony Gonzalez was moved to his natural position, this allowed for another player to return to the starting lineup after a long absence. Ethan Zubak reprised his role at striker as the Galaxy were still without their acclaimed designated player Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez who was out due to injury.
Zubak was praised in the post-game press conference by interim coach Dominic Kinnear for his hold up play and work rate. My issue with Zubak’s hold up play is that he is often receiving the ball with his back toward the goal. While I understand that may be the role of the striker in many situations, eventually a striker/forward needs to be able to make a move toward the goal and Zubak appears to lack the skill to put himself in a scoring position outside of set pieces or crosses.
Another issue with Zubak’s hold up play is that his pass success rate is very low. If he is going to receive the ball with his back to goal, then he needs to be able to distribute the ball accurately to the wingers who can make runs into the attack.
As bizarre as this season has been for Chicharito, he may still have an opportunity to have some success if he starts in place of Zubak with the newly inspired Galaxy lineup under Kinnear.
Below you can find all player grades plus their per game average rating.