LA even more dangerous with Wilhelmsson hitting stride
CARSON, Calif. – Christian Wilhelmsson is approaching his best form and hopes he'll find it in this weekend's MLS Cup final (4:30 pm ET; ESPN, TeleFutura in the US; TSN and RDS in Canada), which would only bode well for an LA Galaxy side that isn't used to employing someone with his skill set.
The Swedish winger is a true wide player, something LA have had only sparingly since Cobi Jones' retirement five years ago, and as he becomes better accustomed to the Galaxy and Major League Soccer – and his teammates discover the intricacies to his game – it figures the defending champions' attacking possibilities will broaden.
It's starting to occur already, as LA demonstrated in successive playoff routs at San Jose and against Seattle, and if the connections are made Saturday against Houston, a repeat could be in the works.
“It's still growing,” said Wilhelmsson, a 32-year-old Swedish national-teamer who has made eight appearances since signing with the Galaxy in early September. “It's difficult to find the confidence and get the game I want to play. ... To get the football going and get the level I want to play, it's not been what I want, but I still feel it's a good way. It gets better and better.”
He's slowly developed a nice working relationship with right back Sean Franklin on the flank and with, especially, Robbie Keane in the final third. His ability to get in behind defenses caused havoc in the victories over the Earthquakes and Sounders – and nearly a few goals. He should have had two off the bench in the 3-1 romp at San Jose in the Western Conference semifinal decider and might have scored one in the opening leg of the Conference Championship against Seattle, but Keane tucked home the slow-rolling ball.
He called that game his best performance since arriving, “and it still wasn't good enough, if you ask me.”
He hadn't played since the 2012 European Championship, when he arrived and needed to develop fitness and get past a lingering injury. Those quadriceps and hamstring ailments slowed his transition to MLS yet the former AS Roma, Nantes, Bolton, Anderlecht and Deportivo La Coruña player, who spent the past four years in the Middle East, has impressed teammates.
“He has an element that we haven't had much of,” left back Todd Dunivant said. “He's another look for us, another dimension to our game. He's crafty, smart and a seasoned pro – I think that's the best way to put it. He's not surprised when the ball gets to his feet. He knows what to do and he can get himself out of trouble, and he can always get a cross off, which is not the easiest of skills.”
Said Keane: “He gives that width, doesn’t he? He makes some clever runs in the inside, which is obviously good for us.”
Wilhelmsson's defensive work has been stellar, and he's shown more of his attacking capabilities with each performance.
“Still they are not used to me as a wide winger like that,” he said. “They have to get used to me as well. It's getting better and better and they're find me in better spaces and better positions.”
There's still room to grow and, he hopes, goals to come.
“I got my opportunities, and that is something to get the chances and not score,” he said. “At one point, you start to score, and then everything goes in. Hopefully, save this for the final.”