On a day where a statue unveiling for club legend David Beckham and a tribute to former coach Sigi Schmid highlighted pre-game festivities, a legend still doing it at 37, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and a 16-year-old potential legend in the making, Efrain Alvarez, led the LA Galaxy to a 2-1 win over the Chicago Fire at Dignity Health Sports Park on Saturday evening.
Thanks in large part to great goalkeeping, the first half stayed scoreless throughout. New Fire goalkeeper David Ousted was tested within the first few minutes of the match — notably by centerback Daniel Steres. Galaxy goalkeeper David Bingham, in turn, weathered a lively Fire offense sparked by US national team January camp standout Djordje Mihailovic. The first half was also notable for the Galaxy's unexpected bad break: Romain Alessandrini exited the match with an injury less than 20 minutes in.
The Fire opened the scoring less than five minutes after the break when new Galaxy defender Diego Polenta hoofed a back pass straight into the path of forward C.J. Sapong — traded from Philadelphia on Feb. 23 — who rounded Bingham and slotted home his first goal in Fire attire. It looked like more goals would be coming, as Mihailovic, new Polish international winger Przemyslaw Frankowski, and Aleksandar Katai created chances for each other and Sapong throughout the half.
But the Galaxy, with a penchant for Hollywood narratives in MLS matches, brought Alvarez on as a game-changing sub in the 60th minute. Just eight minutes later, Alvarez played a curving cross into the path of Steres, who finally bested Ousted to equalize. Then Alvarez played a role in the game-winning goal, playing in sub Chris Pontius for a dangerous shot which caromed off the crossbar ... right into the path of Zlatan, who headed in his first goal of the new season.
- THE BIG PICTURE: For a second half that started so poorly, it's a good sign for the Galaxy that they were able to show their resilience, engineer a comeback, and hang on for the win — especially given all the drama they've had to undergo in the past week. While the Fire looked the better team until the final third of the match, and will rue not getting a result, they played with an energy that has to make their fans feel, at the very least, that the fun is back.
- MOMENT OF THE MATCH: Could it be anything else but the game-winner? Especially that it started and ended with players who are 21 years apart?
- MAN OF THE MATCH: Though he only played the last 30 minutes, Alvarez's assist for the first goal and key pass leading to the second goal showed not only why Galaxy fans are excited for the future he brings, but also why American and Mexican fans are so anxious to see where he'll ultimately commit to play internationally.