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RECAP: LA Galaxy Make a Splash Against Seattle and are Top of the League

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The LA Galaxy played through some puddles to their first clean sheet and first home win of 2024. Their 1-0 victory over the Seattle Sounders did come at the cost of Martin Cáceres.

Fortunately, recent news from South America reveals the front office has already been working to plug in this new hole.

It was a rainy day in Carson, but that didn’t stop 22,736 supporters from filling Dignity Health Sports Park with noise as the LA Galaxy beat the Seattle Sounders 1-0 on Saturday, March 30th.

It took an organization-wide effort to secure the victory in this match. All three points were at risk of being off the table entirely before the game even started, as the rain threatened to make the pitch unplayable. 

Fortunately, the grounds crew at The Digs put in an impressive, orchestrated effort in the rainy conditions to make sure the match would take place as originally scheduled.

As the grounds crew were called upon to save the game, Greg Vanney called on Miguel Berry to start the game in place of Dejan Joveljic. Although the change was unexpected when it was announced, Greg Vanney’s post-match press conference revealed that Joveljic had picked up a groin issue late in the last game against Sporting Kansas City. 

After practicing for the first time this week just the day before the match, it was deemed that the only safe way for Joveljic to play would be off the bench. Despite having the chance to break the record for most consecutive games scored in at the start of an MLS season, it would be unwise to risk further injury to a player who has been so productive this year.

With the starting eleven and pitch good to go, the match kicked off as planned at 7:39 PM PST. While the conditions did improve, Mother Nature had her say all throughout the day, and the play was noticeably affected by a damp pitch. The middle section of the field was incredibly wet, inhibiting play on the ground in that zone.

The LA Galaxy reacted to their environment and looked to play over the top and out wide, using their rapid forwards as outlets. With Riqui Puig pinging balls forward from midfield, Gabriel Pec on the right wing, and Joseph Paintsil coming in to support from a center-forward position, all three of the Galaxy’s designated players were causing trouble for Seattle from the right side. 

The three killer P’s began the match, creating some memorable moments by playing off of each other. The passes to one another included flashy aerial back-heels and dangerously threaded-through balls. The first goal came almost immediately after kickoff as Joseph Paintsil hit the post while one-on-one with Stefan Frei in just the second minute.

That sequence was followed by another where Riqui Puig lofted a pass up into the box towards Joseph Paintsil, who replied with a deft touch to set up the oncoming Gabriel Pec for his first LA Galaxy goal in the fourth minute of play.

The LA Galaxy looked extremely dangerous whenever all three designated players shared a similar zone. However, as the match went on, there were some variations in their formation, and their powers seemed to wane without each other’s influence.

Joseph Paintsil suffered the most without his fellow DPs. After starting centrally, where he could link up with Pec and Puig on the right, Paintsil swapped with Miguel Berry and took over as the left-sided forward. Beyond Julian Aude, Paintsil was isolated from teammates who could help him progress in dangerous areas, and he struggled to find the same joy he did in the opening 20 minutes when connecting with Pec and Puig.

Although Riqui Puig will always find a way to dominate Galaxy matches, he also struggled once the forwards started swapping positions. Through large parts of the first and second half, Puig made a number of poor passes and decisions not befitting of a player of his caliber.

Mistakes deep in the Galaxy’s own midfield have given up goals and points already this season, and Puig’s play makes this a lingering concern. The moment where he faked receiving a pass within his own half and gave Seattle a fantastic look at McCarthy’s goal stands out as one that could have easily cost the team two points.

LA spent most of the match holding off all 28 of Seattle’s crosses. This task was made more difficult when Martin Cáceres went down in the 31st minute. Eriq Zavaleta came on to replace Cáceres for the second game in a row as he came off to receive treatment. 

No word has yet come out regarding Cáceres’s condition; however, some new reporting coming out of South America indicates the Galaxy may be prepared in case of an adverse medical report. 

Columbian journalist Pipe Sierra reported that 22-year-old Carlos Emiro Gárces is close to joining the La Galaxy.  Gárces currently plays with Deportivo Pereira, who are currently tied for first in Columbia’s Liga Dimayor. In 2023, Gárces went on loan to Portugal, where he played in the Liga Revelacao U23.

Sierra also reports that the Galaxy has come to an agreement with both the club and the player for a loan deal with an option to buy. If the situation is as Sierra expressed, the Galaxy have also advanced on completing his visa application, suggesting that he could join the squad soon if the move goes through.

Will Kuntz’s Crystal Ball – Doing the work ahead of time to prepare for the unexpected

Will Kuntz has once again proven a complete understanding of the demands of an MLS season and how to prepare a squad to handle it. The Galaxy currently have four first-team center backs. For some clubs, this may be enough. Still, the front office headed by Will Kuntz and Greg Vanney understood that depth and youth were severely lacking if the Galaxy seriously aimed to compete throughout the course of an entire season and a long playoff run.

They learned their lessons the hard way last year when both first-choice center backs, including the young and exciting Jalen Neal, suffered season-ending injuries. Kuntz and Vanney know that to expect fewer injuries as more competitions are added to their calendar is naive and have prepared accordingly by working on Gárces’s signing.

By identifying this need and working on it early, the Galaxy are in a position where there is less concern over Martin Cáceres’s injury than there otherwise would be. It seems reinforcements will be arriving just in the nick of time.

Whether or not Gárces will be available for the upcoming El Tráfico is a much more difficult question. The first match against LAFC takes place next Saturday, April 6th, at the Banc of California Stadium.

PHOTO: LA Galaxy

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