Midfield trio key to Zlatan-less Galaxy win over Minnesota United

CARSON, Calif. — The LA Galaxy remain very much a work in progress, especially with Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Romain Alessandrini sidelined with injuries. But they look like they've figured things out in the middle, a huge step as they aim for a first playoff berth in three years.

LA's trio in central midfield — Sebastian Lletget in front of Jonathan Dos Santos and new arrival Joe Corona — was superb from start to finish in a 3-2 triumph Saturday night over visiting Minnesota United FC, providing the foundation for one of the team's best performances since Bruce Arena walked away two and a half years ago.

There was good stuff all over the field — Uriel Antuna's work up front set a tone, right-sided midfielder Chris Pontius repeatedly showed up in unexpected and vital spots, and the quickness with which LA attacked (and often defended) on the flanks kept the Loons on their heels much of the night. And the core of it came from the middle.

Corona, signed a couple of days after the opening-day win over Chicago, enjoyed a nearly perfect home debut, linking the attack and keeping the ball moving as LA built its dominance, far greater than the scoreline suggests, through 61.6 percent possession.

The Los Angeles native, who had spent his career in Mexico with Club Tijuana (or on loan from Xolos), deflected praise when asked about his performance.

“I think the way everyone played, it was very good,” Corona said from a joyous locker room. “I think in the midfield we were superior [to] the other team, and I'm glad we won my first home game.”

His teammates were more effusive, especially about how well he combined with Lletget and Dos Santos.

“The guy's so comfortable on the ball,” Pontius said. “I thought you saw with Sebby and Jona and Joe, there's a real good rhythm with them on the ball tonight, and they outnumbered [Minnesota United's] midfield and caused a lot of problems.”

Corona looked extremely comfortable, like he'd been playing with the Galaxy for years rather than less than two weeks. He linked an attack that strung together long passing sequences, created at least a dozen scoring opportunities, and was exemplary the first 45 minutes.

“A lot of touches. Easy touches,” Galaxy coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto said. “He [and] Sebastian can understand each other really good on the field, [also] with Jona. I think [they] played really good all day.”

Lletget, who had played alongside Corona during some youth national team camps a decade or more ago, noted that “it's not easy coming into a new team and finding your form, but he was fantastic.”

“Great vision, great awareness, and he makes me and Jona's lives a lot easier, and you can trust him with the ball,” Lletget said. “That's what we need with our team, people we can trust with the ball, and if we can do that, we're going to do some special things.”

Dos Santos, wearing the captain's armband, was a force on both sides of the ball, and he scored the first goal, converting a penalty kick after Antuna was taken down in the box by Osvaldo Alonso. Lletget, a versatile midfielder who's playing in the No. 10 role in Schelotto's 4-2-3-1 system, capped an impressive performance by volleying an Antuna cross inside the right post for the decisive third goal.

That was a big moment for Lletget, who suffered a broken nose in the loss a week earlier at FC Dallas and started the match wearing a mask. Unable to see as well as he desired, he dumped the mask almost at the start, then got hit in the nose midway through the second half and had to come off the field to stop the bleeding.

Minnesota United scored its first goal while Lletget received treatment, so he made up for it with a goal six minutes later.

“Oh, man, how your stress goes away after [going ahead] 3-1,” he said. “Then we shoot ourselves in the foot and allow a lazy second goal. It happens, end of the game, but we definitely want to work on that. ...

“Last season we would have lost [a game like this], and that's something we want to change this year.”