It's safe to say the LA Galaxy have exceeded expectation through the first five matches of Greg Vanney's first season, but heading into Week 6 of the MLS season, the jury remains out as to how much of it is sustainable.
With that in mind, Saturday's road matchup with the Portland Timbers (3:30 pm ET, ABC, ESPN Deportes), couldn't be a much better opportunity to show that 2021 really is the dawn of a new era for the club as they get set for a bout at one of the league's most hostile opposing venues in Providence Park against a veteran Timbers side that are a perennial Western Conference contender.
Speaking to reporters on his Thursday video call, Vanney said that taking points in games like this is an important part of his team's development as they continue the process of imparting his tactics and identity and look to improve on their 4-1-0 start.
"It's always a difficult place to play," Vanney said. "For us, it's to continue to keep building on what we're trying to do and who we're trying to be ultimately when we achieve being the best version of us is to continue to take steps forward. I thought we did so this past weekend in a couple different ways. We want to continue to work on ourselves defensively, become more difficult to play against, more difficult for teams to get into our half. I thought we did a nice job this past weekend of really protecting our goal again and our box, but I would still want us to be a little bit more difficult for oppositions to get out of their half and into our half.
"Those are things we want to continue to improve upon," he continued. "I think this season is about getting better and ultimately you want to keep taking points along the way, but especially for a new coach and new players we just want to keep making improvements along the way. So we're going to go there, again, with the objective to try to play our way, aware of the things they do well, try to take those away and keep taking steps forward and keep acquiring as many points as we can through the process."
The goal-scoring of Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez has been one of the biggest stories of the early MLS season, and rightfully so given the standout Mexico international's big-name pedigree and blistering production that has seen him net seven goals in LA's first give games.
However, it's the defensive strides Vanney mentioned that could provide the most encouragement for the Galaxy, should they manage to sustain them for their upcoming stretch of games. The Galaxy have still been erratic at times on that side of the ball, but have looked much more sound on the whole than last season, a development that defender Jorge Villafana credited to increased familiarity with Vanney's expectations.
Villafana also agreed that the presence of offseason signee Derrick Williams has provided a calming presence in central defense.
"I think the team is getting better," Villafana said. "We are evolving into the team that we want to be. Obviously we still need to work on things, but the team and the back line, altogether it's coming along.
"Derrick is a great presence, great player, experienced. So that brings an extra to the team that helps a lot and I guess this is the communication that we've been having. We're working for each other, running for each other and I think we've been doing that really well."
On an individual level, the match represents a homecoming for Villafana, who spent two separate stints with the Timbers, racking up over 100 appearances and becoming a fan-favorite.
"I always, when you see that you're going to go to Portland or they're going to come, not really mark [the calendar], but you always look to those games, right?" Villafana said. "I think this game is going to be really special for that matter, but at the end of the day we're going with the mentality that it's not going to be an easy game but we need to bring home those three points that are going to be really important for us.
"It's going to be fun, emotional as well — a place where I had a lot of good moments, where I have really good friends on and off the field. It will be amazing to go back and play at Providence Park."