The Galaxy are 9-6-1 for 28 points and sit in third place in the Western Conference between pace-setting Seattle and Sporting Kansas City, and first-year head coach Greg Vanney is pleased with his team’s progress. But he also knows what his team can do to be even better.
That surprisingly doesn’t have anything to do with new personnel, although Serbian striker Dejan Joveljic reportedly was en route to Southern California from Germany on Monday. It has everything to do with their mental approach.
Vanney said the five-time MLS Cup champions aren’t even close to what they can be.
“We’ve not scratched the surface of what we’re going to be capable of doing,” he said as the Galaxy prepared for Wednesday’s match against Real Salt Lake (5-4-6, 21 points) at Dignity Health Sports Park (7:30 p.m., Spectrum SportsNet). “But we’ve got to get out of the mindset of being good enough and get to the mindset of being great, being the best possible version of what we’re capable of doing, which is a whole other step we have to take as a group.
“For me there’s such a huge area of growth there for us as we work through this second half of the season, and that’s exciting.”
Vanney admitted he has been somewhat surprised by his team’s collective effort, considering the lofty goal his players set the night before the regular-season opener in Miami on April 18. Even goalkeeper Jonathan Bond, in his first season with the Galaxy, was taken back by what his teammates had in mind.
“I was thinking, ‘That’s a big goal for a brand new team,’ ” Bond recalled.
Vanney explained what that ‘goal’ was.
“Our guys did some goal-setting at the beginning of the year,” he said, “and our guys are three points away with one game from the point total they wanted to have at the middle of the season. When they set that, I was like, ‘That’s ambitious.’
“This is a group that’s still coming together, and at the time I didn’t even know the names of some of the players that were going to be here. I’m pleased with (the progress). In terms of where are we collectively, I think we’re still scratching the surface of what our performance level can be.
“I think we have a really exciting level we can get to if we can keep moving forward.”
Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, who has been sidelined since late June with a strained hamstring, was deemed questionable for Wednesday. So was Victor Vazquez, who was substituted at halftime of last Friday’s 4-1 win over Portland because of a tight hamstring.
Vanney and his staff are being particularly careful with Hernandez, who injured the same hamstring last season and was out two months.
“With Javier it’s a return to play and how much he’s progressing,” Vanney said. “He’s probably a little more doubtful (than Vazquez) and it’s about how much we can accomplish on the field as we move forward.
“We had a follow-up as we took some steps forward with him. We started to see a little bit of an edema (fluid buildup) coming back into the area as he started to go, so we shut him down for a couple more days. Then we’ll start that process again, which he’s undergoing.
“There was what you would call a setback, a pause in the return to action, if you will. We’re kind of recalibrating now and moving forward, but he’s starting to do some of that work he was doing before.”
Wednesday’s match could mark the return of Jonathan dos Santos, Efrain Alvarez and Sebastian Lletget, all of whom are back from duties with their respective national teams (Mexico and the United States) at the just-concluded CONCACAF Gold Cup.
Vanney is going to take a cautious approach regarding the trio’s availability for the match against Real Salt Lake.
“The guys are returning today, so we’ll kind of take inventory on them between today and tomorrow and see what kind of role they can play going into Wednesday,” he said. “We’ll try to be smart.
“Efra aside, the other guys have played a lot of minutes in the course of this stretch. Hopefully they can play some role, we don’t know how much yet. We’ll try and figure that out.”
Dos Santos and Alvarez have not played for the Galaxy since June 26, a 3-1 win over San Jose. Lletget’s last appearance for the Galaxy was in a 3-1 win over FC Dallas on July 7.
Wednesday’s game will be a rematch of the teams’ July 21 meeting in Sandy, Utah, where the Galaxy earned a 2-2 tie thanks to a 77th-minute goal by Rayan Raveloson.
Real Salt Lake, which is 2-2-2 on the road but hasn’t won an away game since a 4-0 victory at Vancouver on July 7, is led by Croatian midfielder Damir Kreilach’s seven goals.
The plaudits continue to pour in for right back Julian Araujo, who was named to the MLS Team of the Week.
Araujo not only is regarded as one of the league’s best defenders despite being only 19 years old, but he leads the Galaxy with six assists.
“Jules, his physical capacity is through the roof,” Vanney said. “His capacity to get up and down the line to attack and defend, his recovery speed is amazing. Those are all things that are evident and they’re easy to see because they’re on display all the time.
“In his learning curve it’s an attention to detail on things that seem little but actually become big over the course of 90 minutes as he continues to grow.”
Vanney finally revealed he started watching the popular Apple TV+ series, “Ted Lasso,” which recently began its second season.
So has Bond, although the English goalkeeper admitted he’s only seen the first two episodes of season one.
“I don’t want to be reminded of going back there to those locker rooms,” he said with a grin. “I want to focus on being in America and not going back to England. I haven’t watched anymore.”
Vanney said he’s seen the first two episodes of season two and has been impressed.
“Some really funny stuff,” he said. “I have to give the writers a lot of credit. There is some soccer humor in there that you guys (reporters) will get it, but I’m not sure if all the people who watch it understand some of the soccer humor. It’s really clever writing, a good show.
“I do really, really want to watch it and I intend to. I’ll put a deadline on myself. By August I will have finished all of it, I assure you. That’s my promise. But the end of August we’re talking about Ted Lasso.”