CARSON, Calif. -- One would be wise not to pass judgment on the LA Galaxy and their offseason acquisitions following just one real game, their opener Wednesday night against Mexico's Santos Laguna, but there was enough evidence to, at the least, suggest Major League Soccer's signpost club could be very, very good in 2016.
The scoreless draw in the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal series commended the Galaxy, who did everything at StubHub Center but put the ball into the net while forging the best result among the MLS quartet facing Mexican opposition for final-four berths.
And it was hard to believe they failed to do that.
Belgian defender Jelle Van Damme by all rights should have tallied in his first minute for his new club, sending a sharp header from a Giovani Dos Santos corner kick on frame following LA's first foray forward. Argentine goalkeeper Agustin Marchesin leapt to his left to push the ball away with his fingertips.
Robbie Keane, too, was astonished. Marchesin sent the ball right to the Irishman.
“Went through my legs,” Keane said. “[Marchesin] was laughing after. He got lucky, but that's the way it is.”
LA had a few more chances -- a Keane header that didn't quite connect, a Dos Santos shot off the spin that Marchesin handled, a dipping chip from Ashley Cole that landed on the goal's roof -- but that first one was the one that made the most sense.
So no goal, oh well. Nobody expects the attack to be at full volume so soon -- the Galaxy have been in camp only a month and the three new Europeans, Van Damme and Cole along with Dutch midfielder Nigel de Jong, not quite so long -- and there was enough joy produced by that defensive effort to offset any disappointment.
“I think if we had scored a goal, it would have been the perfect result, but it's still a good result,” Steven Gerrard offered. “We've been banging the drum all preseason about being solid defensively and keeping clean sheets, and that's the base we can be successful from. Very pleased with the defensive side of the game, now we just need to tweak the balance to be a bit more attacking, a bit more adventurous, and, hopefully, the goals will come.”
Said de Jong: “You've got to understand, I think we came in with nine or 10 new guys. It's not easy to gel immediately, but I think today we did well.”
Offseason acquisitions are clear upgrades
The Galaxy went after de Jong, Cole and Van Damme, brought Ghanaian speedster Emmanuel Boateng in from Sweden, and acquired three revered MLS veterans -- bringing back attacker Mike Magee after 2½ years in Chicago, trading for goalkeeper Dan Kennedy, and signing free-agent midfielder Jeff Larentowicz -- in response to their end-of-season collapse as they bid last year for a fourth MLS Cup title in five years.
They needed better depth, a lot more bite and greater talent and leadership. Head coach and general manager Bruce Arena's greatest quality is in building teams, putting complementary players together and forging uncommon chemistry through the group. This has the potential to be his finest work.
The Galaxy appear to have made upgrades in every spot.
Van Damme is a shade shorter than longtime Galaxy backline star Omar Gonzalez, who went to Pachuca two months ago in a salary-cap move, but he's bigger, stronger, more aggressive and more mobile. De Jong, who steps in for Brazilian fan-favorite Juninho -- he departed for Club Tijuana -- is the first true No. 6 LA has had since ... well, who can remember that far back? Cole's skill and smarts make him, at 35, perhaps MLS's premier left back before he's played a minute in MLS. As we saw during the preseason matches, perhaps more so than against Santos, he's a perfect complement to the other big names around him. Hometown boy Kennedy, superb on Wednesday, is the Galaxy's best goalkeeper since Donovan Ricketts' prime.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Van Damme was most impressive Wednesday, winning balls in the Galaxy's box and at midfield, showing a preternatural connection with fellow center back A.J. DeLaGarza -- they hadn't played together during preseason -- and, as that first-minute header demonstrated, contributing mightily to the attack in dead-ball situations.
“I hope,” he said afterward, “to score a few goals with my head.”
Cole's ability to get up and down the left wing, along with his silky ball skills, will be vital for a Galaxy team that traditionally hasn't been sensational on the flanks. And it's mirrored on the right by Robbie Rogers, who played last year on the left. Cole didn't have as much to do Wednesday as in his four preseason games, but his contributions to the defensive showing were vital.
“I think if we had scored a goal, it would have been the perfect result, but it's still a good result.”
- Steven Gerrard, LA Galaxy
De Jong might be the most important new signing. He's a constant outlet for building from the back, does a superb job of protecting the backline, and has in no time at all built something good in central midfield with Gerrard. Think how good such a tandem would have been, say, five years ago. Guess what: It's still pretty solid.
“I think we feed off each other,” de Jong said. “I mean, his quality is to go forward, and I sit more to give protection to the defense, and I think we feed off quite well to each other. I hope we can dominate this season with each other.”
Arena would love to see that, too. He'll be patient.
“You work on just getting better every day,” the coach said. “Our team is not going to change much between now and [the second leg on] Tuesday. I think in a couple months we'll see what kind of team we have. It's still very early to really evaluate too much, but I think we have the makings of a good group.”
Perhaps his best group yet -- and that is really saying something.