Photo by Steve Carrillo

Galaxy largely untested in win over Austin

CARSON, Calif. — The LA Galaxy will be pleased with the effort, for sure. They got goals from Javier Hernandez and Sebastian Lletget and they largely kept expansion side Austin FC in check on Saturday afternoon at Dignity Health Sports Park in a 2-0 victory.

But there was room for improvement and that’s what will keep Greg Vanney busy as the team prepares for next week’s away match with the Portland Timbers.

Vanney went with a relatively standard lineup against Austin. He shuffled the midfield with a Carlos Harvey start and slotting in Efrain Alvarez into the wing. And given Alvarez’s form in the latter stages against LAFC, it was the right call. Victor Vazquez returned to the bench after recovering from a groin injury Kevin Cabral was ready to make his debut for MLS and the Galaxy after arriving to Los Angeles last week.

The Galaxy started on the front foot while dominating possession and chances. Something that really only wained in the second half for about 15 or 20 minutes. But that pressure eventually turned into scoring chances.

With Chicharito drawing a penalty kick in the 25th-minute on a pass from Efrain Alvarez the chances seemed like they might start falling for the Galaxy. But his penalty was saved by Brad Stuver making the Galaxy wait another 10 minutes before finding the back of the net.

“If I score the penalty, the confidence could have probably lifted up,” Hernandez said of his missed attempt. “But that’s the great thing. That if you miss the most important one there’s a next one. So mentally you need to be present. You need to be present. You can’t do anything; you can’t go back to the penalty and try to shoot it again.”

Sebastian Lletget would open the scoring on a long play that started at the feet of defender Dan Steres. Steres would slot a ball through the center of the field as Lletget made a long run right through the heart of the defense. With Chicharito checking towards the ball, Lletget’s longitudinal run was un-matched. And as Lletget approached the ball toward the top of the box, Austin’s Hector Jimenez (former LA Galaxy midfielder) made a diving header attempt to keep Lletget out of the box. Jimenez missed and ended up injured on the play. But Lletget was able to gather the ball and finish past Stuver.

With Steres assisting on the goal, and Derrick Williams assisting on the first goal against LAFC last week, both Galaxy center back’s now have assists on the year — and in consecutive games.

The second half would see Austin start to pick up some momentum but the Galaxy always seemed to find a way out of the pressure. The defense picked up its first shutout since October of 2020 and Jonathan Bond kept his first clean sheet since joining the club.

Chicharito would put an exclamation point on the game in the 77th-minute when Alvarez and Araujo would combine on the right side to open up space and Araujo’s early cross found Hernandez in the box who buried it home on the right side of the goal. It was a good response for a player who had his penalty saved in the first half.

The Galaxy got another big game from Araujo on defense, and Kevin Cabral made his debut in the 62nd-minute. Vanney said he didn’t have any expectations for Cabral who looked dangerous in a couple spots and even scored a goal before it was ruled offside.

The bottom line for the Galaxy is that they’re building toward something. And while they haven’t even come close to reaching their potential, you can see the base being built and the confidence that entails. With every win comes more confidence to do it again, and the knowledge that they’ve done it before. It’s like a snowball rolling downhill — it just keeps gathering speed and momentum.

“We are for sure not at the top of our game,” Vanney explained to reporters. “I think we have had improvements.

“I see players settling in, as they get used to being here. I thought Samuel [Grandsir] was excellent today through stretches and that is showing that he is starting to settle in and connect with this team. I thought our players are getting a better understanding of what our principles are especially on the attacking side. I still think we can continue to improve on both sides of the ball, but we are taking steps forward.”

With 12 points in five games the Galaxy are off to their second best start since 2010 and are matching 2019’s point total game for game. But the little steps in the right direction are really fueling the Galaxy’s resurgence. Their point total is no better than 2019 — a season that saw the Galaxy barely make the playoffs. So their’s plenty of work to be done, even if most people expected the club to take these points from Austin.

“It was very important to step up, because sometimes these games are tricky,” Hernandez explained about coming off a rivalry game with LAFC last weekend. “So after the El Trafico win, it was a game with a lot of emotions, at our home, all the energy we spent, all the fitness too and the way that we defended, the way that we won the game. Of course this game was a tricky one, if you don’t step up, and I think that was very important and Greg [Vanney] and all his coaching staff identified that and since day one he told us, in the way that we train and the way that we prepare this game, to not relax. To not stop doing what we want to show.

“We are going to run, we are going to give our best, we have our style as well, our mentality but the attitude needs to be like 100 to 110 percent every single game,” he said. “So, I think we did it. We managed the game pretty well even though they were a very good team.”