LA Galaxy group celebration celebrate vs LAFC

For most of their existence, the LA Galaxy have been all about showtime, and with good reason.

They live in LaLa Land, after all, just a few stop-and-go traffic jams down the 110 from the Hollywood sign and the Chinese Theatre and all the rest of Tinseltown’s trappings. It’s a region where the NBA’s Lakers – in which the Galaxy’s ownership group holds a minority stake – have for decades set the tone as the hottest ticket and must-see-and-be-seen scene on the sports landscape.

Jorge Campos, Matador Hernandez, David Beckham, Robbie Keane, Zlatan Ibrahimovic – hell, even Andrew Shue: All are part of a long Galaxy tradition of not merely competing, but entertaining. And that priority would seem to be even more essential now that LAFC have arrived with all their glitz and glamor and spectacle (in most other places pregame falconry might come off a bit … conceited? But not, it seems, in LA).

Yet after a woeful start to 2020, the Galaxy are suddenly on a two-game winning streak, both of them rivalry victories and both via muscular methods that suggest Guillermo Barros Schelotto & co. are going less “Lake Show” and more Raiders.

They’re based in Las Vegas now and were the Oakland Raiders before that. But the NFL team in question once spent over a decade at the LA Coliseum, their pirate crest, silver-and-black colors and bad-boys attitude synonymous with the scruffier side of SoCal, a reputation carried into mainstream American culture when gangsta-rap icons NWA wore their gear as they stormed up the charts.

The Galaxy have lately adopted the old-english “G” iconography to play up their "since '96" status and blue-collar bona fides – Carson is a highly diverse, working-class town, after all – so perhaps it’s fitting that a post-Zlatan identity finally seems to be coalescing around the simple virtues of hard work, rugged defending and set-piece potency.

“Right now it's a little different this year compared to last year, obviously, with Ibra's departure and some other players coming in,” goalkeeper David Bingham said of his team’s self-image in a conference call last week. “This year it's a more balanced approach and we're definitely able to defend with more numbers this year. And we've worked a lot the past couple of weeks about how we want to be organized offensively, and then how we also have the attacking weapons to spring into people on the break and then play on that side of the ball, too.

“But right now it's a much more balanced team than I think we had in the past and it just takes time for that unit to come together, so we can really get on the same page and then implement our game plan, day in and day out.”

You could contend that this evolution was not so much a choice as the only avenue for the Galaxy after their miserable time at the MLS is Back Tournament, where they went winless and lost Chicharito Hernandez to injury. And it’s not like they’ve suddenly turned into bus-parking FC Cincinnati – LA’s front line is still blessed with weapons like Cristian Pavon and Sebastian Lletget, who is thriving as more of an out-and-out No. 10 after filling multiple slots on the pitch over the past few years.

But collectively the Galaxy seem to be embracing the shift from star power to, well, horsepower, for lack of a better word. Midfield destroyer Perry Kitchen has become an everyday starter at the base of midfield, Daniel Steres is doing his best to turn the page on the backline’s error-prone past and his new center-back partner Nick DePuy has seized his chance at MLS level after impressing with Los Dos in USL Championship play last year.

“What I’ve been preaching all week is it’s back to basics,” said Steres after Saturday’s 3-2 Cali Classico comeback win over San Jose. “We had to start from the ground up after Orlando and we’re just working through some building blocks and seeing some progress. We’ll continue from here.”

GBS’s choices may grow more complicated as engine-room linchpin Jona dos Santos returns to full fitness and Chicharito completes his recovery. But at least he and his team have a solid footing underneath them as he mulls those scenarios. Style had to take a back seat to substance while simply trying to get back on dry land.

Besides, what Los Angeles loves most of all are teams that rack up Ws. Departed Raiders owner Al Davis was famous for his exhortation to “Just win, baby,” and that’s the metric that counts most for the Galaxy, too, even if it takes more grinding and less galacticos.