CARSON, Calif. — Everything leading up to the match was perfect. The stadium was filled over capacity, the grass was cut inch-perfect, the hype video — filmed in the same location as the Dark Knight Bat Cave — was energetic, and the new MLS Anthem, written by world-famous composer Hans Zimmer, taxed the sound system in all the right ways.
With anticipation high, and with energy at a near fever-pitch, the game couldn’t have asked for a better lead-in. So when referee Ismail Elfath finally blew the whistle to kick-off the game at Dignity Health Sports Park on Saturday night, everyone in the building expected excellence.
But what they got was an immature performance with some concerning trends that should have everyone in the organization asking questions.
To be fair, the 10-man LA Galaxy team that finished the night didn’t deserve the win. They generated almost no offense while controlling the better of the game and had just one shot on target over the 90-minute affair. And they allowed the visiting Vancouver Whitecaps to take advantage of a few good chances to win the game 1-0.
The Galaxy passed horribly, and throughout the night, they sent in cross after cross for a much taller man who wasn’t there– a tactical problem that LA Galaxy Head Coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto had a week to remedy but didn’t fix.
The Whitecaps defended smartly, with two blocks of four, and at times dropped ten men behind the ball. They were simple and mostly direct with their attacks with Tosaint Ricketts scoring in the 74th-minute on a basic overloaded penalty box play the Galaxy were slow to react to.
Midfielder Jonathan dos Santos returned to the starting lineup for the first time in 2020, but could only make it a 45-minutes before being replaced by Perry Kitchen for precautionary reasons (tightness in his quad). Dos Santos’ substitution signaled another setback for the Mexican International who had spent most of the preseason nursing a groin injury.
Sacha Kljestan had a better night, creating two chances in the first half, with Aleksandar Katai sending five shots toward the target, but never on. A few good bright spots for both players. Bright spots that wouldn’t last into the second half.
Defender Emiliano Insúa was probably the best player on the field on the night. He was dynamic going up the left-wing, his crosses were always driven, and he seemed to combine well with Cristian Pavon.
Pavon, on the other hand, had one of his worst games as a Galaxy player. He was indecisive, his passing was atrocious, and he seemed to run into trouble than away from it. And his crosses – the Galaxy attempted 23 – were too high, too late, or too off-target to be of any help to the Galaxy.
Joe Corona, who was praised by Schelotto after his substitute role in the Galaxy’s draw with Houston, was a mixed bag. He added some good passing with dos Santos and Kljestan, but his lack of discipline saw him receive two yellow cards in just eight minutes. His ejection in the 75th-minute, just a minute after the Galaxy had conceded Vancouver’s goal, killed all chances of a comeback.
“I am disappointed with the result today,” Schelotto said after the match. “I don’t think we deserve to lose today, but sometimes in soccer, it’s not about who deserves to win, it’s about who scores.”
And that’s where Schelotto was wrong. The Galaxy weren’t the better team, they weren’t the more dangerous team, and they didn’t deserve anything but what they got.
Schelotto’s tactics isolated Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez allowing him just ten touches in the first 45-minutes and only 30 touches for the full match. The $10-million transfer had just one shot all night and was blanketed by a sea of Whitecaps who clogged the middle of the field while cutting off passing lanes.
Even when Pavon or Katai would join him on an attack, the passing to Chicharito’s central location was haphazard at best, reckless most of the time, and blind to the danger it possessed on multiple occasions.
Without service, Mexico’s all-time leading goal scorer resembled more of a paperweight than a dangerous offensive threat. And his refusal to speak to the press after the match didn’t make his case any more persuasive. 18 Cameras and nearly 40 members of the media waited on him in the post-game press conference. But he didn’t show up.
Kljestan did (he wore the Captain’s armband in the second half). Goalkeeper David Bingham did. An injured dos Santos did. But Chicharito, who has made it a good habit of speaking to reporters so far in his Galaxy tenure, did not. Is that frustration? Is that embarrassment? Is that nothing?
With Chicharito, this doesn’t seem to be a motivational issue – this isn’t because he made the media talk-show rounds this week to promote the club – it’s merely because he does not fit into what Schelotto sees as the offense. That should be on Schelotto and not Hernandez.
“I think everyone is waiting on the Chicharito goal, and everyone will ask me about Chicharito if he doesn’t score in the game,” Schelotto said while answering the second question of the night. “I think I am more worried about the result tonight than whether Chicharito scores or not.
“Because I know he is a regular striker, and we have just two games, and he hasn’t scored, but we expect he will score in the next game,” he continued. “We put the ball in the box all the time, but we couldn’t find him. We will try in the next game.”
But in this game, the Galaxy were not good enough, Chicharito was not good enough, and Schelotto was not good enough. Even though it’s just the second game of the season, this all counts.
And that’s a shame.
Because MLS’ all-time leader in championships put on a show on Saturday night in front of 26,382 people and they hit every single note right — up until they started playing soccer.