With a typical Dominic Kinnear tweak, Giancarlo Gonzalez made all the big plays in the LA Galaxy’s win on Sunday night to keep the playoff hopes alive.
The last time anyone had seen LA Galaxy defender Giancarlo Gonzalez was almost a week ago at Banc of California Stadium, where he walked off the pitch after being red-carded in the 25th minute of an eventual 2-0 loss to Los Angeles FC.
His exit seemed to typify how the season had gone for the maddeningly inconsistent Costa Rican, a 32-year-old veteran who had lost his starting job in central defense to Nick DePuy, someone who was six years his junior and in his first year on the club.
Gonzalez, however, was back in the lineup Sunday and his appearance couldn’t have been timed any better, with his first goal of the season and stunning, second-half clearance off the Galaxy goal line highlighting his team’s 2-1 victory over Real Salt Lake at Dignity Health Sports Park.
The win not only kept the five-time MLS Cup champions’ faint playoff hopes alive, it more than likely went a long way toward boosting Gonzalez’s shaken confidence.
“I feel happy today because the team won and I was able to score and play well,” he said. “This season, there’s games when things go the way you want them to go and there’s games where they don’t. I keep working hard and the team has been there supporting me.
“I just try and be there and work every day and give my best to help the team. Today I think I had a good day and when things are bad you just have to think you’re not the worst player in the world. When things are good you also don’t think you’re the best.
“Just continue to work hard and help the team.”
Sebastian Lletget, who assisted on Gonzalez’s header that gave the Galaxy a 1-0 lead in the 18th minute, felt especially pleased for his teammate.
“I mean, he’s someone who has been in and out of the team and has had a real tough go and has really stuck with it,” Lletget told reporters. “Seeing him train day in and day out … you never know when you’ll get the chance and I’m really glad it fell for him.”
The game was 18 minutes old when Lletget’s free kick into the Real Salt Lake penalty area connected with Gonzalez, who expertly re-directed it just past diving goalkeeper Andrew Putna.
“Sebastian’s cross was coming at me really hard,” Gonzalez said, “so all I had to do was redirect the ball. It was a good cross; I think that goal was good for the team and gave it confidence.”
He was in the right place at the right time again just over 30 minutes later. Real Salt Lake’s Corey Baird had slipped behind the Galaxy defense to collect a long pass from Albert Rusnak and headed toward the Galaxy net. Goalkeeper David Bingham, making his first start after missing the previous four games, came out to challenge Baird and the Real Salt Lake midfielder chipped the ball over Bingham for what appeared to be a tying goal. The ball was about to head over the goal line when Gonzalez raced in and cleared it out of trouble.
“It was a breakaway from Real Salt Lake. I had an intuition that was going to happen,” Gonzalez said. “I kept going and saw it coming, and I had the chance to save it on the line and thankfully that was the case.”
Gonzalez clearly had one of his best games since he joined the Galaxy in April of 2019, and he may have had interim coach Dominic Kinnear to thank for it. Kinnear, who replaced the fired Guillermo Barros Schelotto last Thursday, made the subtle change of moving Gonzalez to his more comfortable position on the right side of central defense, with Dan Steres manning the left, and the switch appeared to make all the difference.
“When Pipo (Gonzalez’s nickname) steps on the field, I think he’s more comfortable on the right-hand side,” Kinnear said. “I think if someone can handle the ball on the left-hand side better it’s Daniel (Steres).
“There wasn’t much into it. Just for Pipo to have a game I think he’s comfortable on the right-hand side.”
Gonzalez understandably was happy for the change.
“That’s one of the things Dom and I talked about when he took reign of the team,” he said. “He told me he saw by watching training through the season that I felt better playing on the right side of the center backline. Yes, I’m right-footed and it’s obvious I do feel more comfortable there.
“I’m thankful I had the opportunity to play there and was able to help the team get a victory tonight.”