Carson, CA – The LA Galaxy battled for 56-minutes with 10-men but couldn’t erase an 8th-minute counter attack goal by the Portland Timbers and have fallen to 0-2 at home to start the season for the first time in franchise history.
LA Galaxy boss Curt Onalfo was pleased with the effort his team put in, but acknowledged that they had to be smarter when Van Damme was booked twice in less than three minutes. “He [Van Damme] did get a yellow card for dissent. We can prevent that. So we dug ourselves a hole regardless of if the referee made a bad judgment or not,” Said Onalfo after the game. “We can’t put ourselves in that situation. We’re at home. We need points. I don’t know what minute it was — the 32nd minute — we’re playing with 10-men.”
And the yellow cards come with their own bit of controversy.
The first yellow card was produced when Van Damme “fouled” Portland’s Diego Chara in the 31st minute. Head referee Baldomero Toledo whistled the foul and after Van Damme demonstratively protested, issued a card for dissent. Replays show that Van Damme probably had a right to be upset because he didn’t actually make contact with Chara. Simulation is something MLS’ disciplinary committee might want to take a look at, as they just suspended the Galaxy’s Dave Romney for embellishment in the previous game.
In no time at all, Van Damme had seen his second yellow and was ultimately issued a red card for an attempted tackle on the Timbers’ David Gúzman. Guzmán was cutting through the center of the field when Van Damme lunged toward him. In this play, Gúzman avoided the contact but still went down hard – almost purposely dragging his ankle thinking that contact was coming. But nothing came. Guzmán would have to leave the field shortly after due to the shoulder injury he received from this play. But again, there was no contact by Van Damme.
Toledo answered the pool reporters question after the match, stating that “Van Damme was given a caution for dissent [The first caution]. On the second caution, Van Damme attempted to trip Guzman which stopped a promising attack. Guzman avoided the contact and fell awkwardly.”
Regardless, the Galaxy were quickly down a goal thanks to some wonderful counter attacking early in the game from the Timbers, and were now down to 10-men.
But instead of caving to that pressure, the Galaxy fought until the end of the game. They saw Clement Diop, who was given the starting spot by Onalfo for this game (coaches decision, no injury to Brian Rowe), make several outstanding saves, and one almost completed bicycle kick on the attacking end.
The Galaxy also saw a heartening performance by Rafael Garcia. During one play, in the second half, Garcia slipped in the attacking end, near the center circle, when Fanendo Adi got to a ball on a quick counter attack. Garcia was undeterred by his stumble, and with the help of Sebastian Lleget, ran all the way back to make a sliding save just feet from the goal line.
Onalfo was particularly pleased with Lletget. Saying “I thought he was the best player on the field in every aspect,” after the game.
The Galaxy’s best chance at going level with the Timbers came late in the game when substitute Jose Villarreal headed a low, glancing shot towards the Timbers’ Jake Gleeson. Gleeson dove to his right and parried the ball away for a corner kick.
The nuance of that play saw Joáo Pedro, who was relatively quiet and ineffective throughout the afternoon, open up space for Villarreal. When the cross came towards Pedro he moved toward the ball and his defender followed. The glancing blow off of Villarreal’s head was inch perfect and only ruined by a superb stop from Gleeson.
The game also saw the Galaxy dive into injury territory again. As Designated Player Giovani dos Santos was removed from the game at halftime. “Gio has got either a slight strain to his hamstring or just tightness. We’ll know more tomorrow,” claimed Onalfo. “But he couldn’t go in the second half so we had to make that change.”
His replacement was Ema Boateng who played a good 45-minutes. He utilized his speed and his crossing ability. But the Galaxy offense struggled when they left Jack McBean isolated after the red card to Van Damme. And with relatively little link up play, the 22-year old forward was underutilized and didn’t capitalize on the chances he was given.
But while fans clamor for the return of Gyasi Zardes, who was training this week after offseason knee surgery, they’ll have to find some answers with Ari Lassiter, Villarreal, and McBean. And if Giovani dos Santos is out for any extended period of time, expect two of those three to be starters in the Galaxy’s next game – away to Real Salt Lake.
To date, the only Galaxy goal of 2017 has come from a penalty kick that was drawn by a defender. Certainly not the way Onalfo would like to start the season. And he surely isn’t relishing the fact the Galaxy must now go on the road for their next two games, either.
“I actually look at it differently,” said Onalfo. “We will be better for this. We got some players some minutes and they performed well. That helps create depth to our team… I’m a forward looking person. I don’t look back. My job is to continue to make the group better, and that’s my focus.”
For his sake, let’s hope the Galaxy can build some momentum with their performances. Because they haven’t been close to firing on all cylinders. And although players have been getting minutes – at one point the entire back line was made up of former LA Galaxy II players (Nathan Smith, Daniel Steres, Bradley Diallo, and Rafa Garcia) – the Galaxy haven’t reaped any of those rewards.
In a season that will be the last before LAFC joins the fray, the Galaxy look more akin to an expansion team than a five-time MLS Cup Champion.
But after only two games, multiple injuries, and two suspensions, perhaps it’s simply too soon to be burying this team. If the youngsters are going to develop, they need to do so quickly. Because Galaxy fans have little appetite for a slow start.