SAN JOSE, Calif.—A slow smile danced across the face of Curt Onalfo at the sight of a gaggle of reporters clogging an Avaya Stadium hallway while awaiting his press conference.
“So now you guys want to talk to me,” the LA Galaxy coach joked.
After three consecutive road victories, there was plenty of grinning to be done by the Avaya visitors on Saturday night. If you were wondering in the offseason, “Just how good can the Galaxy be this year?” then LA’s smashing 4-2 victory against the San Jose Earthquakes might have offered an answer:
Very, very good. Almost scary good.
The club that opened the season 2-5-0 in Onalfo’s first year is 3-0-2 since then, with a plus-5 goal differential. The way they zoomed up and down the pitch made it seem as though departed legend Bruce Arena was still stalking the sidelines, tormenting his neighbors to the north.
“It’s a new group,” Onalfo said. “It’s a new coach, a lot of new players, a lot of change. It takes time to adapt to that. Plus, it was just a weird start to the season for us. A lot of suspensions, injuries, so it was hard to really have any continuity. And I think that had a lot to do with it.”
LA’s attacking engine, the duo of Romain Alessandrini and Giovani dos Santos, played at full throttle Saturday, including a connection on a scintillating capstone goal in the 64th minute. But the Galaxy got equally impressive performances that showed the continuing integration of LA’s other newcomers.
Midfielder João Pedro, who faced scorn and criticism after a slow start upon his arrival from Portugal, slipped behind San Jose’s backline and lashed a pass from Ashley Cole to score his first MLS goal.
“I don’t read blogs, I don’t read nothing that people say,” Pedro said. “I just focus on my work. Soccer players are always under a lot of pressure and [have] a lot of critics … We have to have haters to improve. That is the thing in being a soccer player.”
And rookie right back Bradley Diallo, who starred for Onalfo when both men were toiling for LA Galaxy II in the USL, was simply too much for the Quakes to handle. His run at Quakes left back Kofi Sarkodie drew the first-half penalty that dos Santos converted, and his drive and cross just before intermission forced an own goal off the head of San Jose center back Victor Bernardez.
“He was our best defender in Galaxy II, for a long period of time,” Onalfo said. “His concentration levels are excellent. He doesn’t get beat, he locks down that entire side of the field and then on top of it, he can run all day and he does a good job with the ball and making decisions. That part I was a little concerned [about], because right back isn’t his natural position, but he just locks down that side. He’s been excellent, there’s just no two ways about it.”
There are still hurdles to overcome, however. The Galaxy have scored 11 goals in 3 1/2 games since Jermaine Jones went out at halftime of what would become a 2-2 tie against the Chicago Fire on May 6, a level of success that has some observers wondering how – or even if – Onalfo can successfully reinstall the US international into the starting XI.
Onalfo shot down speculation that Jones wouldn’t be returning to his lineup, saying that the 35-year-old could be back as soon as next weekend at D.C. United: “Jermaine’s a great player. He’s going to find his way on the field, so once he gets healthy, we’ll just assess our group and see where it makes the most sense to put him on the field.”
And the Galaxy must keep Alessandrini – who fell out of favor at Olympique de Marseille and thus didn’t often log heavy minutes there – healthy despite hacking that left him limping noticeably in the locker room Saturday night. Kinesio tape could be seen sticking out from underneath the 28-year-old’s right pant leg as he spoke to reporters.
“I’ve played 12 games in a row,” said Alessandrini, who hasn’t missed a start for the Galaxy. “It was a long time [since] I’ve played like that, so I need to get used to it.”
The payoff for the Galaxy could be immense; Alessandrini and dos Santos are on pace to finish with a combined 35 goals and 20 assists on the season between them. Their connection on LA’s final goal – where Alessandrini roared down the left flank and dos Santos simply outran San Jose’s defense for a wide-open header – was a thing of beauty.
“They are good already,” Pedro said. “Imagine when more weeks go by. They are very good players, both two of the best players I know. The fourth goal is something to savor.”
So, Curt, are all the folks who leapt off the bandwagon in March and April beginning to slide back, perhaps sheepishly, into view?
“I hope so,” Onalfo said. “I’ve never wavered; I’ve said the same thing from the beginning. We’re still not where we want to be, but we’re moving in the right direction. We’ve just got to keep building on this. I feel like we’re starting to play good soccer, exciting soccer, soccer that our fans should be proud of.”