National Writer: Charles Boehm

LA Galaxy back "on the right track" after Cali Clásico triumph against San Jose


Yet again their periods of dominance failed to translate onto the scoreboard, and thus they let another opponent hang around until the very end. The game’s first goal was a bit scrappy, so much so that there was confusion about who scored it. And considerable questions still linger about how well their roster, tactics and team shape really mesh together.

But none of that mattered to the LA Galaxy at the final whistle of their 2-1 win over the San Jose Earthquakes Sunday night.

The victory, just their second in league play thus far, means the Gs no longer occupy last place in the Western Conference standings, and it arrived in a California Clásico clash with their oldest rivals. In fact, they’ve now won two straight, considering their US Open Cup defeat of the Seattle Sounders at midweek.

The exultation and relief were palpable at Dignity Health Sports Park.

“I'm very happy because we won the game, finally. Two games in a row, three points,” said young striker Dejan Joveljic, who came off the bench to bag what turned out to be the winning goal, putting the Galaxy up 2-0 in the 91st minute. “For us it’s very important to reach, to make it to the playoffs. That’s our goal for the season. And after that, everything is possible. Hopefully one step more than last year. Even better, two steps more.”

Joveljic has made clear he wants and needs to be a starter eventually. Yet he declared his readiness to play the supersub role in service of the team – "I know he doesn't want to be that guy always and forever, but he has certainly carved out a niche for himself that is very special," said head coach Greg Vanney – and his alert pressing of Jonathan Mensah almost immediately after entering the match earned him a breakaway and cool finish past JT Marcinkowski.

It sparked a euphoric celebration from the Serbian that was met and matched by the enthusiasm of teammates both on the pitch and along the sidelines.

“I mean, everyone needs the support like I had. If every player has the support like I had, I think that sky's the limit,” said Joveljic, somewhat cryptically.

Vanney was a bit more reserved, often a luxury for someone in his position.

“I really enjoyed it tonight,” said the veteran manager, who has endured a harsh spotlight amid his side’s substantial 2023 struggles both on and off the pitch. “I felt like I was quite comfortable and calm, because I felt like the guys were quite comfortable inside of the game. And for me, it was a game of a few details that we could clean up here or there along the way.

“Sometimes you're in games, there's a lot of things inside of the game that need to be sorted out, that just aren't going well and we need to clean up. But tonight it wasn't about many things. It was about a few details here or there. … I wasn't even that concerned that we missed a few chances early, because I felt like we were in control of things, and they weren't hurting us defensively. That's when I usually get a little uncomfortable, is when we look vulnerable on the defensive side, and tonight we looked sound.”

There has been more than a hint of defiance in Vanney of late as he fielded waves of probing questions about his side’s spirit, its defensive fragility, and his own preference for playing with one striker despite the obvious talent of Joveljic in addition to Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, the face of the club. Now, at last, he and his group have a couple of results to build upon.

“We've looked at two forwards and different shapes and different things to see if we can get those two on the field together. But I don't think it's shown to be comfortable for everybody, and hadn't shown to be overly successful just in terms of more goals,” said the former Toronto FC boss. “So I think getting results, from a mentality standpoint gives you the sense, and especially based on the performances, that you're on the right track.

“I know we can score goals. But if we defend like we did tonight, we're going to win many more games. I just firmly believe that with our group, because we have a lot of good soccer players, but defending is something we need to concentrate on.”

Tasking left back Julian Aude with a strictly defensive assignment on in-form winger Cristian Espinoza and cutting off service to striker Jeremy Ebobisse, LA held the visitors to less than one expected goal as the Quakes failed to build on last week’s big home win over LAFC.

“Our performance was not good,” said Quakes head coach Luchi Gonzalez. “We know we can play better than that. Our quality in the attacking third, I thought we had more giveaways than we're used to. We’re a team that's usually very dangerous, creating more xG in a game like this. And it comes down to connections and quality and volume, putting balls in the box, running in the box, and we didn't do that well enough tonight.

“It's a good lesson.”