The LA Galaxy defeated the Vancouver Whitecaps (0-4-1) on Friday night for their first road win of the 2019 season. The Galaxy (4-1-0) scored twice in the second half behind Daniel Steres and Zlatan Ibrahimovic and braved the synthetic surface at BC Place for the 2-0 shutout.
But the entire game would turn on a single play just 48 seconds from the start. That’s when starting left-back Jorgen Skjelvik slipped on the turf, spun around once he regained his footing, and then promptly fouled Vancouver’s Lass Bangoura in the penalty box.
Defender Ali Adnan, new to the Whitecaps this season, stepped up to take what surely should have have been a 1-0 lead from the spot but failed miserably at his panenka.
He had Galaxy goalkeeper David Bingham stretched to his left, but his looping dink of a shot, never made it to the goal line and Bingham was able to retrace his leap to the turf to keep the ball off the line and out of the net.
Bingham, who was forced into making five saves on the night, stood strong through the rest of the first half, even as the Galaxy’s defense — without Diego Polenta at center back due to a strained abductor he picked up midweek — struggled to play cohesively.
Dave Romney, filling in for Polenta, and Skjelvik misplayed a ball in the 19th minute that saw Joaquin Ardaiz get an open look on goal, but again, Bingham was up to the task.
Even a shot from Hwang In-Beom on a dangerous counter-attack wasn’t enough to beat Bingham in the 30th minute.
And the first half played out much the way it sounded. The Galaxy would hold some good possession, then throw everything forward only to let the Whitecaps counter quickly with near-deadly effect.
But the game remained scoreless until the second half. And that’s when Galaxy defender Daniel Steres made his offensive presence known.
Staying forward on a corner kick, the ball eventually found its way to Zlatan Ibrahimovic — Ibrahimovic was making just his second start on a turf field since joining MLS and only his third appearance on the carpet.
With a few feinting moves, Ibrahimovic was able to open up enough room from the right side of the penalty box and cross the ball to the back post where Steres was left unmarked for his second goal of the season and gave the Galaxy a 1-0 lead in the 63rd minute.
Ibrahimovic would follow up with a goal of his own seven minutes later as he drilled a ball crossed in by Rolf Feltscher for his fourth goal of the season.
The Galaxy captured a clean sheet for the first time since last season. In fact, the last shutout the Galaxy recorded was a 3-0 win over the very same Whitecaps in September of 2018. And the last time they captured a road shutout was in May of 2018 when they shutout another Canadien team, the Montreal Impact, by a score of 1-0.
Over 90 minutes the Galaxy were far from perfect. But the adjustments made in the second half set this performance apart from any of their previous wins.
They were smarter about their runs in the second half, and Guillermo Barros Schelotto adjusted their positioning to take the dangerous Hwang In-Beom out of the match. His darting runs in the first half opened up tons of space between the midfield and defense. But in the second half, his name was hardly mentioned as Jonathan dos Santos, and Joe Corona squeezed him into their vice, much as they did to Diego Valeri last week against Portland.
The Whitecaps managed just one shot on goal in the second half while the Galaxy had three shots on goal. Which almost makes up for the fact the Galaxy didn’t get one on frame in the first half.
Finally, it was the Galaxy’s passing that was able to kill off the game. Corona, dos Santos, and Sebastian Lletget were masterful in the second half at keeping the ball away from the Whitecaps, and their time in possession skyrocketed through the second 45-minutes.
They’d finish the night with 55% possession in total, but the graphs are wholly lopsided in favor of the Galaxy in the second half.
Schelotto has now won four of his first five games, and the Galaxy are off to their best start since 2010 (13 points from five games). Only 1996 (15 points), 1998 (13 points) and 2010 (13 points) have had better starts through the same number of games. Leaving the 2019 Galaxy in rare company.
The 12 points from five games momentarily moves the club into second place in the Western Conference and the Supporters Shield — just 1 point behind LAFC through the same number of games. But most teams still have to play this weekend while the Galaxy rest up.
Notably, the Galaxy took advantage of a struggling team and got three precious road points from the Whitecaps which will only help them keep pace in a very tough conference.
The Galaxy will return to Dignity Health Sports Park on Saturday to prepare for an April 13 match at home with the Philadelphia Union.