CARSON, Calif.—Romain Alessandrini scored his first goal since opening day to send the LA Galaxy on Friday night to their first home win in nearly two months, a 1-0 decision over San Jose. That might signal, as much as anything else going right for the club right now, that things are starting to fall into place.
The Galaxy (5-6-1) have claimed successive shutouts -- for the first time since October 2016 -- after conceding 11 goals during a four-game losing streak, and most of the attention is going to defensive improvements. Sebastian Lletget's move to the No. 8 spot, next to holding midfielder Perry Kitchen, has helped stabilize the foundation in front of the back four, first-year center back Jorgen Skjelvik is finding his way after a rocky start to his MLS tenure, and chemistry throughout the side but especially at the back is starting to take hold.
Now Alessandrini is looking to become more of what what he meant last year, when he played a direct role in 31 of the 40 MLS goals the Galaxy scored when he was on the field. Not exactly the same, because his role has changed with an influx of attacking personnel, but something like it.
The French winger played a pivotal role in the two most important moments in Friday's victory. He collected a ball outside the box following Emmanuel Boateng's serpentine run past three defenders in the 82nd minute and fired to the lower-left corner to put LA on the board. Then he cleared the ball just as Quincy Amarikwa arrived to knock home the rebound after goalkeeper David Bingham tipped Danny Hoesen's rocket off the crossbar following a free kick in the 89th to keep San Jose scoreless.
Those were the only shots on goal in an energetic but largely incoherent clash between the California Clasico rivals. The goal meant plenty to Alessandrini, who had connected just once -- the second goal in a 2-1 win March 4 over Portland -- on 16 shots this season.
“Finally!” he exulted in his the Galaxy's locker room afterward. “It's a good feeling, but the most important thing tonight is to win. ... [I've been frustrated] because I try a lot, and I didn't succeed with everything.”
He'd hit the post twice, in 3-2 losses to the New York Red Bulls nearly a month ago and to FC Dallas two weeks ago, and that was aggravating, but more difficult was coming to terms with what seems to be a diminished role this season.
Everything ran through Alessandrini last year, mostly because there was nobody else who could adequately run LA's attack. He was everywhere, did everything, and whatever success the Galaxy had in a difficult campaign was mostly down to him.
The arrivals of Ola Kamara and Zlatan Ibrahimovic and how head coach Sigi Schmid uses Jonathan Dos Santos -- and Giovani Dos Santos, when healthy -- means that Alessandrini is more of a role player this year, less the go-to guy. A hamstring injury slowed him earlier in the campaign, and he's needed time to adapt.
“I think that's why I was a little bit frustrated,” he said. “Because last year I think I touch more balls, and this year I try to be more focused when I get the ball, because I don't get enough balls, I think. But when I get the ball, I try to beat the [opposing] guy 1-v-1, I try to get some good crosses [in], and [be strong at] finishing.
“My role is different this year, but I try to adapt it, and tonight was good for me. I have to work hard to keep going, and I think I'm getting better.”
Schmid compared Alessandrini to a baseball slugger who “would hit 45 home runs and strike out, like, 180 times. That's just what it is. Sometimes it's hit or miss.”
He said Alessandrini has been affected by all the moving parts around him. LA have been able to play the same combinations on the field only in the past month or so, as they have gotten healthy and newcomers have started to find their paths.
“It's a constant learning process [in a new role], but it's also because of the inconsistency of the players that are next to him. It makes it a little more difficult,” Schmid said. “Having Jonathan and Seba and Perry in the middle of midfield helps our midfield because that's now their second game together. We were able to correct some things from the last game, and we were able to do better.
“It's the same for Romain. He has a different guy in the middle of midfield from week to week, but because we've made so many changes at right back [following Rolf Feltscher's shoulder injury], he's had a different guy behind him.”
Alessandrini said defensive work, such as his clearance following San Jose's only shot on goal, is something the Galaxy should expect from him.
“I need to give that for the team every game,” he said. “Sometimes I'm tired, because I think I run a lot, but tonight I give more for the team, and that's the kind of player I want to be.”