A debut, a win and a goal. Not a bad start to Christian Wilhelmsson’s stint with the LA Galaxy. The Swedish winger netted LA’s second goal in a 2-0 win over the visiting Colorado Rapids.
It’s been over two weeks since the Galaxy last played an MLS match, but coming in unbeaten in their last four and 7-2-1 in their last 10, LA returned to league play still just three points behind Real Salt Lake for the West’s 3rd spot.
Galaxy Head Coach Bruce Arena welcomed the newcomer, Wilhelmsson, by handing him the start just 10 days after signing with the club. While David Beckham, who suffered an ankle injury in training, did not dress for the match, the Galaxy’s captain, Landon Donovan, returned after missing the team’s last three matches and national team duty to nurse an ailing hamstring. Also returning, Robbie Keane, who played during the international break with Ireland in World Cup qualifiers.
On the Rapids side of the ball, Colorado Head Coach Oscar Pareja opted to stick with the squad that defeated the Portland Timbers 3-0 at home a little over a week ago.
You wouldn’t have known it by the way Colorado came out in the first 15 minutes, but they’re a team harboring slim hopes at a playoff spot. But whatever urgency you might have expected eluded the Rapids in much of this match.
In just the 3rd minute, Galaxy fullback Sean Franklin worked a nifty 1-2 with Keane at the edge of the area, springing the defender clean on goal. Fortunately for the Rapids, Franklin’s resolve in front of goal mirrored his position and he could only manage to hit the outside of the net with his golden chance.
With all the pressure early in the match, the Galaxy would find their opener and once again Keane was involved. Only this time, the Irishman took the finishing upon himself. In a sequence displaying an array of slick passing and intelligent movement off the ball, Marcelo Sarvas squared a pass in Keane’s direct just outside the Colorado penalty area. The forward feigned a touch and opted to let the ball continue to his strike partner Donovan while Keane sprinted into the area. Donovan’s first time ball found Keane in stride and after his first touch to collect, the forward expertly finished his shot left-footed into the far corner in the 15th minute.
“It was a great goal,” said Donovan after the match about Keane’s finish. “I thought we started the game really well and we had a few good chances early. It was really important to get a goal early against a team that really came here with no intention of winning the game.”
The goal is Keane’s 9th in the last 14 games and surprisingly Marcelo Sarvas’ first assist of the season in MLS.
After taking the lead just 15 minutes in, LA had few quality opportunities to close the half. For Colorado, they ended with a bit of a flourish but with not so much as a shot on goal to show for their troubles. Both sides entered the break looking fairly content with the scoreline on a unusually hot night.
“It was an inconsistent half after we scored. I think we took our foot off the pedal a little bit and got sloppy,” said Arena of the first half after the match.
The Business End:
While the Colorado never seemed to much of a threat for the Galaxy back line that has three clean sheets in their last four matches, the new boy, Wilhelmsson, put extinguished any Rapids’ hope in the 58th minute when Sarvas found the winger behind the Colorado defense. Fending off the challenge of two defenders, the Swede’s left-footed shot from 20 yards appeared harmless until goalkeeper Matt Pickens got ahold of it. The Rapids’ man made a mess of it and the ball trickled in to cap a perfect start to Wilhelmsson’s time in a Galaxy shirt.
Pareja’s choices to go with Conor Casey and Cummings on the bench to start might have been his attempt to play the hot hand, but when the Rapids resorted to attempting to beat LA via balls into the box, without the strength of Casey, the Rapids had little chance. The combination of Sarvas and Juninho in LA’s midfield has been uncanny as of late, and once again the Brazilians put on a textbook display through the middle with numerous interceptions, clockwork passing and two assists from Sarvas. Add the addition of another quality playmaker the the Galaxy line-up in Wilhelmsson on the wing and LA had little trouble in the match despite a bit of rust from the layoff.
The win is LA’s 3rd in 4 matches. Level with RSL, Donovan has reiterated the Galaxy’s intention to climb as high as they can before the end of the season. With matches still remaining against the teams just ahead of them (Seattle and San Jose) and the way the team is clicking on both sides of the field, it looks like this team could be a nightmare come playoff time.
LA will now head to Puerto Rico for a CONCACAF Champions League clash on Wednesday before returning home to take on Toronto FC on Saturday.