Photo by Steve Carrillo / Steve Carrillo Photography

LA and Chicharito take down Defending Champs and grind out a victory.

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Javier Hernandez scored a 90th-minute goal to claim all three points in the Galaxy’s season-opener.

CARSON, Calif. — LA Galaxy head coach Greg Vanney has been preaching defense for most of the preseason. And he’s been unequivocal in his stance; if the Galaxy defend well, they’re going to win games.

While they might not want to replicate the overall defensive performance — the 1-0 shutout shouldn’t be overlooked – the Galaxy did put themselves in a position to grind out a victory – something they had been missing in 2021. And on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, at a full-capacity Dignity Health Sports Park (25,174), all it took was for a defender to get into the action to allow for the talent of Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez to take over.

Raheem Edwards, making his Galaxy debut at left-back on Sunday, was able to pressure substitute Keaton Parks about 10 yards outside the penalty box. This was after a Galaxy cross had been cleared out to Sacha Kljestan, and after Kljestan found Edwards the first time only to Parks disrupt the play. But Edwards pounced back on the ball and fired a left-footed pass between two defenders to a barely-onside Chicharito.

But with the ball outside the near post and Chicharito screaming toward the touchline, defender Maxime Chanot dove in to stop a left-footed shot that never came. Instead, Hernadez cut the ball back into space and fired a rocket right foot past New York City goalkeeper Sean Johnson for the game-winner in the 90th-minute.

“I want to give so much credit to Raheem [Edwards] because, the way for him to see that goal, the pass that he did, he’s a left-back,” Hernandez, who rarely takes individual credit, told reporters after the game. “And he did a pass of a number 10. You know, I want to praise him so much because that’s the talent that we have.”

It was Chicharito’s 20th goal since joining the Galaxy and his first since scoring 17 goals last season. And it’s also the fourth straight game Hernandez has tallied in going back to last season, his sixth goal in as many games, while only taking two shots in the entire game.

Edwards, who played the full 90 minutes, led the team in final third passing with 13 passes, was one of just four players to register a shot on goal during the night, and finished third on the team in completed passes (33) for the game.

But the Galaxy and NYCFC looked anything but free-flowing for the match. And while the Galaxy held the visitors to just one shot on a goal for the entire game, meaning Jonathan Bond only had one save on the afternoon, the defense looked shakey many times.

With Derrick Williams still out due to injury (hamstring), it was up to Nick DePuy and Sega Coulibaly to patrol the middle of the field with Rayan Raveloson and Mark Delgado guarding the center of the midfield. Coulibaly and DePuy worked very hard but saw several missteps go unpunished, and the Galaxy always seemed to get back on the transition. Again, something they failed to do a lot of last season.

Julian Araujo started and played at right-back and had a standard night for the Galaxy. He got forward well, and he tracked back on defense. Even if in the 33rd minute, he may have been overlooked by VAR for a red card for getting his hands into the face of a New York defender.

But after submittal of a pool reporter question to the officiating crew, they stated that VAR did look at the incident and determined it wasn’t a clear and obvious error.

Only time will tell if Araujo escapes suspension, a fine, or both, as the MLS Disciplinary Committee can still look at these incidents after the fact.

Another big debut came from Brazilian Douglas Costa. Costa played 67 minutes in his first game with the Galaxy, had several smart moves with plenty of pace, and even got a shot on target in the earlier stages of the game. He wasn’t as sharp as a player who was 100-percent game fit, and he doesn’t have his teammates figured out, but it was a good first showing for a man that a lot is expected of. But his progression, both fitness-wise and team-wise, will be something everyone on the Galaxy will be interested in.

“I think you see his [Costa] quality and some of his actions on the ball,” Vanney said. Some of the moments that he does things, you see quality, and he’s an intelligent player. Again, this is the first match he’s played in a long time. He didn’t have a lot of preseason matches. The only way we’re going to get him with continuity in the group and get his legs under him is to get him out and have him playing. He’s got to work through some of that in front of everybody, in front of the crowd, and that’s part of it.”

The Galaxy improved to 17-8-2 all-time in home openers and beat NYCFC for just the second time in six matches. And they were one of the teams that ensured none of the teams playing in the CONCACAF Champion’s League got a win in their season-opener.

But there is work to do. And the Galaxy will now start preparing for a cross-country trip to Charlotte, North Carolina, where they’re expected to play in front of the largest crowd in MLS history when they take on Charlotte FC at Bank of America Stadium on Saturday, March 5 (4:30 PM PT, FOX).

“We deserved this, and we know how soccer is. Sometimes you can work and do everything that is in your hands, and sometimes the result doesn’t come your way,” Hernandez closed with. “That’s the beauty of it because it’s not predictable. But we played against the best team of MLS last season in our home, it was our home opener, and we won in the last minute, you know? So yeah. The feelings are pretty positive.

“But like always, tomorrow we need to turn the page. We need to start focusing on Charlotte. That is going to be a difficult game. We’re going to go to the east. It’s a long travel. It’s a team that is new. They have everything to win, nothing to lose. We need to go step by step.

“We earned the first three points, but this is not over. This is just the beginning. And we learned from last season. You know that one play matters. One goal matters. One clean sheet matters, and one sprint matters.”