How did the players perform in their first match in 127 days and could there finally be some momentum building in advance of El Tráfico?
The LA Galaxy started their MLS is Back Tournament campaign on Monday evening as they took on the Portland Timbers with an opportunity to top Group F at stake.
With their captain, Jonathan Dos Santos ruled out of the tournament due to injury, the LA Galaxy saw some fresh faces enter the lineup to see if they were up to the task of getting their first win of 2020.
The Galaxy started strong and put themselves in position to separate themselves from a sluggish Timbers team in the first half. But a missed penalty conversion set the tone for what would be a frustrating night for the club.
In the second half, the Timbers capitalized on two defensive errors within seven minutes, ultimately proving to be too much for the Galaxy to overcome.
Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez’s first ever LA Galaxy goal came too late in the game to give the team a chance at stealing a point.
Nobody likes losing, but did we see any bright spots to build upon heading into this weekend’s rivalry match?
Let’s take a look at how the players fared on the night:
TOP OF THE CLASS
It was surprising to see the 17-year-old homegrown player from Carson get his MLS debut in a start against Portland, but he made a case to be one of the Galaxy’s most impactful players in this match.
Dunbar looked like he belonged in the starting role, causing problems as he attacked down the left wing. He displayed a fearlessness when moving forward, which is something that the team lacked in the opening matches, outside of Cristian Pavon.
In addition to the technical ability and speed that he brought to the lineup, Dunbar also connected on several key passes. These connections with his teammates showcased his ability to adapt quickly to the first team and is likely to be a key contributor in this tournament.
The burden of having a successful debut is that expectations are now raised for the teenager. Dunbar gave Galaxy fans a lot to be excited about and the team may be looking forward to having him contribute with the same consistency in the future.
We move on from the youngest player on the pitch to the oldest. Sacha Kljestan put in a performance that you would expect from a league veteran as his calmness under pressure helped the Galaxy maintain possession throughout most of the game.
Additionally, Kljestan was tied for the second most shots in the game with his best chance coming off a rebound from the Hernandez penalty miss where he saw Portland goalkeeper, Steve Clark, come up big in the moment.
The absence of Dos Santos leaves a hole in the midfield and the Galaxy will need the mental toughness and veteran leadership of Kljestan if they have any chance of moving beyond the group stage.
Cristian Pavon continues to look like the Galaxy’s most dangerous option in the attack.
In a game where many players looked sluggish and tired, Pavon showed his fitness as he was constantly moving around the field, hustling to recover loose balls, and asking questions of the Portland defense.
Pavon also put himself in situations to draw fouls and create set play opportunities for the Galaxy to capitalize upon, including the shot that led to an eventual penalty kick.
He also showed to be the number one option for free-kick opportunities on goal (if only his teammates were able to get out of the way). Additionally, in hindsight, he may need to be the number one option from the penalty spot as well.
I hope that we do not see a talent like Pavon go wasted in one of the few chances to see him in 2020 before his loan deal expires.
Let’s talk about the elephant in the room. Hernandez was the marquee offseason signing and everyone was looking to see him break his duck for the Galaxy.
A handball in the box in the 11th minute put the spotlight on Chicharito to convert from the spot. Hernandez telegraphed his run up which led to Steve Clark anticipating the placement and saving the penalty kick and Kljestan rebound.
After this miss, there was visible frustration from Hernandez throughout the match. He looked like a man who could not seem to find any rhythm or chemistry with his teammates.
Things went from bad to worse early in the second half when he sent a perfectly teed up shot flying over the crossbar. This was particularly unsettling given that this was the type of shot that Hernandez is notorious for putting in the back of the net.
Even with all of the adversity that Hernandez faced, he still led the team in shots and shots on target. Eventually leading to a goal in the 87th minute where his intelligent run saw him put away a signature tap in.
There were some negatives and there were some positives, but ultimately Hernandez had an impact on this game where other players on the field, simply, did not.
In a game where “fight” and “hunger” were hard to come across, Gordon Wild brought it when he was inserted into the game in the 78th minute.
His first touch of the ball saw him put it in the back of the net. Even though the goal was eventually called back due to an offside call, it was by a thin margin and Wild showed a knack for putting himself in the right place at the right time.
Wild later went on to provide an assist to Javier Hernandez while executing a dangerous run toward the sideline after a dish from Cristian Pavon.
The intensity and hunger that he brings off the bench will be key as they Galaxy move on to their now crucial group stage matches.
Hernandez will take a lot heat for failing to convert his chances, but you can’t argue that he wasn’t involved in the game.
Perry Kitchen, on the contrary, was unable to have an impact. He connected on many simple passes but also lost possession on several questionable long balls.
Kitchen was also looking to fill the role of a defensive midfielder, yet did not register one successful tackle or interception.
Given the allowance of subs, the amount of players available on the roster, and the return of Joe Corona from red card suspension, Kitchen will have to do more if he wants to regain a spot in the starting lineup.
Giancarlo ‘Pipo’ Gonzalez kept his spot as starting center back after some shaky performances in the first couple of matches.
Gonzalez continues to lack the aggressiveness and steadiness that many teams look for to be a pillar in the defense. The was particularly on display in the run-up to Portland’s second goal which saw Gonzalez made a half-hearted effort which failed to close down Sebastian Blanco.
Center back pairings have been an issue with the Galaxy in the past few seasons, but these performances from Gonzalez may force Guillermo Barros Schelotto to rethink his options and possibly to try and pair a now healthy Daniel Steres with Nick Depuy, who looked solid in his limited appearances.
Rolf Feltscher may have the voice of an angel, but his performance in this match was less than angelic.
Feltscher looked like a new player at the start of the season, but for the tournament opener he looked a bit rusty and put the Galaxy in a poor position to walk away with points.
In Portland’s opening goal, Feltscher was caught ball watching on a couple of occasions as he failed to cut off Blanco’s run toward the sideline and then fell out of position to allow Jeremy Ebobisse to slot in a goal on an empty net.
Feltscher also did not successfully complete any crosses into the box. You have to start asking questions if he is unable to contribute offensively and continues to have defensive lapses.
Even though it was a poor performance on the night, I think Feltscher has the ability to bounce back and play an important role both defensively and offensively as he has done before against the cross town rivals.
NAME ON THE BOARD
Schelotto gets as many stars as substitutions he made.
Of the 22 teams who have played in the MLS is Back Tournament, only three teams have used three or fewer subs. And the only team to use less than three? You guessed it, the LA Galaxy.
In the first full 90 minute match in over three months, Schelotto failed to use even the old standard amount of substitutions. This was particularly strange given the heat, humidity, and new tournament rules that allow for up to five substitutions.
I can give Schelotto credit for seeing that Cameron Dunbar had the talent and ability to have and impact on the match, but beyond that he did little to adjust after being down two goals.
People will start asking questions if Schelotto doesn’t trust his options on the bench or if he is incapable of maximizing his substitutions and create a game plan to keep his team fresh in adverse conditions.
The last note on Schelotto, who’s seat may be getting warm, is to touch on his managerial style. While body language of a manager does not directly impact team performance, it tells a story of a person who looks unable to motivate his players. Whether that statement is true or not, cannot be confirmed, but it certainly LOOKS that way, especially in contrast to Giovanni Savarese on the opposing sideline.
Below you can find all player grades plus their per game average rating.