The LA Galaxy’s strong start to 2021 has been one of the stories of the season in MLS, but for as much as the exploits of the Chicharito-led attack have had the Galaxy looking like a much-improved team, the Galaxy defense has taken longer to find its rhythm.
That rhythm has started to show more in recent matches, and Saturday’s 2-0 win against Austin FC featured the Galaxy’s first shutout of the season.
“It’s something that we’ve been working hard on and talking about and for the guys,” Galaxy coach Greg Vanney said. “All the work that they’ve put into it to get it, it feels good.”
The centerback pairing of Nick Depuy and Daniel Steres conceded four goals in two matches at the start of the season, but offseason acquisition Derrick Williams has displaced Depuy and settled some defensive concerns.
Williams earned his first start in a 3-0 loss against the Seattle Sounders on May 2, but the lack of a midfield put a lot on the Galaxy backline and Williams was subbed out with an ankle injury at half. ,
Since the Sounders game, the Irish international defender has been a key part of a much-improved Galaxy backline, adding a needed physical presence to pair with Steres.
“I like to get stuck in,” Williams said. “And let forwards that know they’re not gonna have an easy game and I’m going to be physical.”
Against LAFC Williams’ hard-nose defending was on display, making a slide tackle that lead to the opening goal for the Galaxy.
As for the win against Austin FC, Williams was not involved in any goal scoring actions, but his chemistry of the back four as a unit was evident.
“I try to talk as much as I can,” Williams said. “One thing I want to make sure I do is to try to be a leader at the back.”
The shutout is not just indicative of Williams’ presence, but the collective defending by the Galaxy backline. For the first time this season, they did not depend on goalkeeper Jonathan Bond, the league leader in saves, to keep them in the game.
“Progressively we have gotten better in these games defensively at protecting our goal,” Vanney said. “And now if we can just extend that a little bit higher up the field and recover balls a little bit higher.”
Saturday’s victory also yielded a strong performance from right back Julian Araujo, who admitted to some struggles with form after failing to qualify for the Olympics with the U.S. Under-23 Men’s National team in April.
“He was gone for a big chunk of preseason, so we needed him to settle in. I think his defending has been a lot better the last couple games,” said Vanney.
Araujo surged forward from his right back spot in the 77th minute, earning an assist on a cross that Javier Hernandez scored to make it 2-0.
It is still early in the season but defensively the Galaxy look to be turning the corner. Araujo has locked down the right side and in the center Vanney has found stability in the Williams-Steres partnership.