THREE-CHARITO! The Galaxy earn three points off a Javier Hernandez hat trick, grinding out a win despite some defensive lapses.
The LA Galaxy welcomed 6,853 fans in limited capacity attendance in their much-anticipated homecoming after 414 days without fans at Dignity Health Sports Park. And they were not disappointed as Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez put on a show, scoring three goals to bring his season total to five. A 150% increase of his goal output from 2020 in only the second game of the season.
The game was not all smooth sailing as some defensive lapses allowed the New York Red Bulls to keep the game within striking distance on multiple occasions. The pressing attack of the Red Bulls also created some nervy moments for the Galaxy backline.
However, credit cannot be taken away from Greg Vanney’s side who managed to grind out three points while playing an additional 16 minutes of stoppage time over both halves. The Galaxy are now the only team in MLS with two wins to start the 2021 season.
Let’s take a look at how the players fared on the afternoon.
Players are graded on a 5-star scale with no half star designations.
TOP OF THE CLASS
For the second week in a row, the LA Galaxy’s star designated player delivered a Man of the Match performance slotting in all three of the team’s goals this week. Hernandez looks to be back in form scoring the types of goals that made him a household name.
The goals may not be Puskas Award contenders, but Hernandez seems to always find himself in the right place at the right time. Consistently being in these positions speaks to his intelligence on the pitch, which when combined with his work rate produces goal-scoring performances that the Galaxy hope to see more of.
The emotion expressed after each goal coupled with the desire to continue looking forward, as stated in the post-game press conference, show why this team is rallying around a leader like Hernandez.
The Galaxy have had a full midfield for the last half-decade, but they seem to have been missing the right type of midfielder to take the team to the next level. Victor Vazquez fits the mold of an attack-minded maestro that the Galaxy have been missing. His quick decision-making and touch on the ball make him a valuable asset, erasing many questions about his age and form coming into the 2021 season.
The highlight of the match for Vazquez was his inch-perfect long ball into Chicharito who snuck in-between the Red Bulls defense to slam home the Galaxy’s second goal of the afternoon. Being able to unlock Hernandez will be crucial to the Galaxy’s success this season and Vazquez has delivered on accomplishing that in his first two matches.
After sustaining a heavy collision in the opening minute of the match, Jonathan Bond managed to shake it off and put in another solid shift in goal. Bond made four saves on the afternoon including an acrobatic diving save to stop a thundering volley from Fabio of the Red Bulls in the 28th minute. The save came at a crucial time in the match where the Galaxy were struggling to keep possession and a level score helped to prevent sending the Galaxy into panic mode.
Bond allowed two goals during the match, but it is hard to put much blame on him for conceding. The first goal came on a well-placed shot from Andrew Gutman after an unfortunate bobble from Julian Araujo. The second goal was due to an incredible touch from Amro Tarek (which looked unintentional) to send the ball into space before Cristian Casseres Jr. headed the ball into an empty net.
The man with the “Goldfingers”, as noted by announcer John Strong, continues to come up big when it matters and gives the Galaxy defense an extra sense of security to know they have a competent goalkeeper when things go sideways.
Jorge Villafana introduced himself to Galaxy fans with a solid performance on defense. Villafana played all 90+ minutes and started the game by giving the Red Bulls a taste of their own medicine with a high press to dispossess the opponent leading to an early Galaxy goal.
Villafana’s calmness on the ball helped to keep the Galaxy in possession when the Red Bulls attempted to press, particularly in the second half and stoppage time. The veteran presence is also felt with his positioning where he was rarely beaten when New York attacked down his side.
After coming on in a “super-sub” role on the road against Miami where he was involved in multiple Galaxy goals, Ethan Zubak earned the start on the wing in place of the suspended Sebastian Lletget. Zubak continued with his goal contributions early in the match with a “shass” (shot/pass) that put the ball in a position to be tapped in by the opportunistic Hernandez.
Zubak looks to be an improved player in the opening matches as he runs with purpose and seems to have a clear directive from coach Greg Vanney. The pixie dust seemed to wear off later in the match as his first touch and errant passes, which could have been a product of tired legs, still appear to be a weak link in his game.
At the end of the day, Zubak has been on the field for all six of the team’s goals this season and that is something that he can continue to build upon.
Julian Araujo got his first start of the season after being suspended for a match due to a red card against the Vancouver Whitecaps in the final regular-season match of 2020. Araujo has been at the center of much speculation as to where he will land in the future, but in this match, he appeared to not be at the top of his game. Perhaps it is the burden of expectation, but Araujo looked a bit rusty at times during his first full 90+ minutes.
The Red Bulls appeared to target Araujo’s side of the field leading to an unfortunate bounce off of the defender’s leg which set up New York’s first goal. However, Araujo did manage to win several duels and contributed to the Galaxy’s third goal by sending in a cross which eventually landed in range for Chicharito to scissor kick into the net.
Araujo was also asked to fill in a familiar role in the midfield when Samuel Grandsir was subbed out for Oniel Fisher. This versatility was maximized as Fisher played well in a defensive position to allow Araujo to be more free-flowing.
The LA Galaxy made several off-season moves to bolster their offense in 2021 and while some of those moves appear to be paying dividends, French winger Samuel Grandsir has been underwhelming thus far.
Grandsir’s passes seemed to be out of rhythm with his teammates and he also lost nine duels in his 78 minutes on the pitch. It could be a learning curve to the style of play or a need to play himself into game shape, but Grandsir is not contributing to the offense as much as was promised.
A highlight of Grandsir’s struggles came in the second half where he was sprung on a counter-attack but seemed to lack the closing speed and technical skill to convert in what could have been a moment that sealed the victory. The season is still very young to make any definitive judgment on the signing, but there is plenty of room for improvement.
While judgment may be reserved for a new signing like Grandsir, Jonathan dos Santos has already shown what he is capable of doing when he is at his best. On the other side of the coin, he has also shown a Galaxy tenure that has been shadowed by injury struggles and inconsistent play. In the match against the Red Bulls, dos Santos had a quiet afternoon before needing to be subbed off due to an injury concern in the 73rd minute.
As a designated player, the expectation is for dos Santos to make his presence felt on the field via tackles on the defensive end or key passes to transition to the offense. In this match, dos Santos never really found his footing, and more concerning was his need to be subbed out early. The Galaxy staff do need to monitor dos Santos carefully as he missed the majority of last season due to injury, but dos Santos also needs to hold up his end of the bargain by meaningfully contributed when he is available for selection.
Adam Saldana has been asked to fill into the midfield of a Galaxy team that is still awaiting a proper starting 11. For many young players, these opportunities can lead to breakout moments and eventually turn into regular appearances for the club. For Saldana, however, it appears that the game at the first team level may be just a touch too fast for him.
Saldana definitely has skill and promise that can develop into a contributing role player, but he seems to hold the ball for a moment longer than necessary and the passes aren’t as sharp as his counterparts.
The positives are that Vanney seems to trust Saldana to start in the big moments and he has shown that he can frustrate opponents on the defensive side of the ball. This wasn’t the best showing for Saldana, but much can be learned from these experiences for a player of his age.
Below you can find all player grades plus their per game average rating.