By KAYLA KNAPP
CARSON, Calif.–The newest signing for the LA Galaxy didn’t take long to pay off.
Christian Wilhelmsson scored in his debut on Friday night as the Galaxy got a 2-0 win over the Colorado Rapids and moved into a tie for third place in the Western Conference with Real Salt Lake, just one point behind the second-place Seattle Sounders.
“We went into the game hoping we would get 60 minutes out of him, we managed that,” Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena said of Wilhelmsson after the game. “He’s going to be a good addition to the team. He showed his experience on the field, excellent first touch, understands how to play on both sides of the ball, so I think he’s going be a player that’s certainly going to help us in this stretch.”
Wilhelmsson was impressive in his debut even before scoring in the 58thminute. He showed off his sharp footwork on the ball, and vision with runs and passes down the right flank and when he pinched in to the center of the field.
“It was his first game so we’ve got to iron out some kinks with all of us, we have to figure out how he wants to play but he contributed,” Landon Donovan said of Wilhelmsson’s debut performance. And the Swede agreed.
“There was some misunderstandings sometimes but I’m it’s been two weeks and we’re getting to know each other more and more every day,” Wilhelmsson said after the match. “It will be better, absolutely.”
Robbie Keane opened the scoring in the 15th minute, with Marcelo Sarvas–who also put in a fantastic performance–and Landon Donovan assisting. While Colorado looked good for stretches, especially near the end of the first half, the Galaxy put in a convincing and dominant performance.
The Galaxy put the pressure on early against the Rapids, with a few good opportunities on net in the opening minutes.
Their continued attack led to Keane’s goal in the 15th minute, when Sarvas played the ball to Landon Donovan, who slotted a through pass to a streaking Keane. The Irishman then finished it calmly past Colorado keeper Matt Pickens, giving LA a 1-0 lead in the 15th minute. Both Donovan and Sarvas were given an assist on the goal—the first in MLS for Sarvas. But he wasn’t done yet.
“We had a few good chances early,” Landon Donovan said post-game. “It was really important to score a goal early against a team that really came here with no intention of winning the game.”
A few minutes before halftime, Omar Cummings entered the game for the injured Tony Cascio, who had been playing well for Colorado. Cummings did well, but the Rapids seemed to lose a bit of their spark after Cascio left the match.
“I don’t think we had a good start to the game,” Rapids head coach Oscar Pareja said after the match. “The first 15 minutes it was a lack of intensity, and that set a tone for the rest of the first half. When you’re chasing the game, that’s difficult.”
At halftime, it was 1-0 in favor of the Galaxy, but Colorado would have to string together better possession if they wanted to find the equalizer.
The Galaxy continued their domination in the second half, and again their pressure paid off in the 58th minute, when Wilhelmsson scored his first Galaxy goal.
The Swede collected a pass from Sarvas and shook his defender in the box to make space for himself. After opening up a couple of feet in front of him, the Galaxy’s newest signing hit the ball low and hard at Pickens, who couldn’t handle it and the ball trickled into the goal. Wilhelmsson gave the Galaxy a 2-0 lead with a little more than 30 minutes remaining, and Sarvas picked up his second assist of the match.
Wilhelmsson was subbed off within minutes of scoring to loud cheers from the crowd at the Home Depot Center.
“It was great feeling, big relief, of course scoring in the first game is amazing, I’m just glad we could get the three points,” Wilhelmsson said after the win. “A goal is a goal, but I have to thank the keeper, he helped me a little bit.”
With about ten minutes remaining, the Rapids found a bit of rhythm and started stringing passes together and attacking in the Galaxy final third. Sarvas would again come up big for the Galaxy, when Conor Casey beat Josh Saunders, and ripped a shot from inside the box at the open net. The Brazilian threw his body in front of the strike that was surely bound for goal, and kept the clean sheet for Los Angeles.
“Tonight we got saved by Marcelo,” Galaxy defender Omar Gonzalez said. “I made that mistake but that shows our character of players getting back and getting into the right position and saving the goal. I’m happy he made that save.”
At the final whistle, despite a few late-game chances from the Rapids, the Galaxy managed to keep them off the scoreboard, and post a 2-0 victory as they continue to climb the Western Conference table.
“We’re greedy,” Donovan said of the Galaxy’s hot form. “We want more and if we’re going to pass Seattle, pass Salt Lake and get near San Jose we’re going to need a little bit of help, but we also play those three teams, all of them, so we want to keep pushing and we’ll see where the chips lie at the end but we’re going to keep going and keep putting pressure on teams.”
Los Angeles will have to turn their sights to the CONCACAF Champions League as they travel to Puerto Rico to face the Islanders on Wednesday.
Colorado will try to bounce back next Sunday when they face the Vancouver Whitecaps.