For the uninitiated, there is much that separates Major League Soccer from other notable leagues around the world. There is the single entity business structure, the draft system, the designated star player policies. But most of all, in these opening weeks, there is the sense that no team is considerably better than any other. At least, that was the case until this weekend when LA Galaxy faced the undefeated Real Salt Lake and pulled their pants down in front of everyone.
It has not been an auspicious start to the season for coach Bruce Arena and his star-studded west coast side. An early defeat to Colorado Rapids was a body blow and two draws against Vancouver Whitecaps and Portland Timbers appeared to suggest that Arena was struggling to settle the new faces in his squad and to cope with the loss of Robbie Keane to injury. But while a thumping 4-1 win over Houston Dynamos was evidence of improvement, this emphatic result is proof that the tide has turned.
As a team, they were noticeably quicker and more decisive, eager to test Salt Lake’s high line with balls over the top, playing to their own strengths.
There were outstanding performances across the park, but more than that, there was a display of great character. Steven Gerrard spurned an early chance to open the scoring when he missed a fifth minute penalty and when Juan Martinez headed home Luke Mulholland’s cross, product of an inexplicable mix-up in the Galaxy defence, it looked like another difficult day for Arena. Instead, it only intensified his team’s focus.
Gyasi Zardes has been an erratic presence for the Galaxy this season, occasionally dazzling, occasionally giving the impression that he’s wearing someone else’s boots. The equaliser was a dazzler. Baggio Husidic set him free with a perfectly weighted ball, he dragged three defenders out to the left, cut back in and whipped the ball into the corner from 20 yards. And that was just the start.
Two of the best performers on the pitch combined in the 26th minute to put the Galaxy ahead. Ashley Cole, really finding his feet in this team now, sent a perfect pass to Emmanuel Boateng, the diminutive 22 year old Ghanaian winger. His cross was perfect, landing plum on Mike Magee’s instep.