CARSON, Calif. – Zlatan Ibrahimovic got most of the attention, and rightfully so, after the LA Galaxy's stunning rally from three goals down to claim a 4-3 triumph in their first tête-à-tête with new crosstown rivals LAFC.
But much of the credit goes to the depth Sigi Schmid & Co. constructed after last year's disastrous campaign.
This, Schmid noted in his postgame media session, is the kind of result that propels teams to greater things, and it arrives just as LA are starting to get healthy again – and, of course, have added perhaps the greatest talent MLS has ever seen. That ought to give rivals pause.
The Galaxy were missing four starters Saturday afternoon, including all three of their Designated Players, and it seemed to contribute to the lackluster start. The fill-ins and those who came off the bench – the latter a group that includes Ibrahimovic – made the difference in the turnaround.
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“I'm just very proud of this group,” Schmid said. “I don't want to talk about the guys who weren't out there, I want to talk about the guys who were out there, 'cause the guys who were out there certainly rolled up their sleeves.”
Sebastian Lletget is supposed to be easing into this season as he comes back from last year's devastating foot injury, but has averaged 70 minutes the past three games, first in place of Romain Alessandrini and then Giovani dos Santos. He scored the vital first goal, which shifted momentum in LA's favor.
Servando Carrasco, making his second start in place of Jonathan dos Santos, was the catalyst on the play, stripping Benny Feilhaber a bit outside the LAFC penalty area and threading the ball to Lletget in the box. As Feilhaber put it: “[Ibrahimovic is] a very special player … but my mistake in the middle is what changed the game.”
Chris Pontius, back from injury himself and starting in Alessandrini's stead, trimmed the deficit to a goal with a diving header. Center back Daniel Steres, a starter last year who stepped in after Michael Ciani went down, fed Ibrahimovic's stunner to tie the game. Baggio Husidic, the Galaxy's midfield utility man, set a foundation for LA's dominance in the final half-hour and switched the ball to Ashley Cole high on the left flank to set up Ibrahimovic's winner.
It follows a solidly gritty showing a week earlier, when LA dug out a scoreless draw in Vancouver with six starters missing. Depth was at the heart of the Galaxy's worst-in-MLS showing last year; now it's a strength.
“I think that word is huge for our side, the depth. We definitely showed it,” Lletget said. “I think the more games we play everybody's just gong to keep getting sharper. We were missing a lot of guys today … top guys, and to do it without those guys [and to] show that depth is really important for us.”
Carrasco and Pontius were acquired during the offseason as LA bolstered the middle of their roster, one of the primary objectives heading into this season. There's a clear first-choice starter at most spots on the field, but the battle for playing time is truly heating up.
“[This is] why you build a roster like that,” Pontius said. “You hope it doesn't get tested, but eventually it will. Ours got tested a little bit earlier than most. ... We've got competition at every position, and that's only going to make players better in training. It's going to push players. Sigi's got a good problem on his hands.”
Saturday, Pontius said, was “a perfect storm.” Might it be the moment that inspires the Galaxy's entire campaign?
“These are, I guess sports psychologists call them, team-building moments,” Schmid said. “You never know what are defining moments for a team, but this is the kind of game that becomes a defining moment. There's a realization within the group that nothing is impossible. You're 3-0 down, you can still come back. It helps build our character and our belief in our ability.”