Cristian Pavón scored a fantastic goal, Jonathan dos Santos had his best half of the season and the entire LA Galaxy team overall looked like they were well up for their game Sunday against Real Salt Lake.
But the hero was an unlikely choice, with defender Giancarlo Gonzalez stepping up in a 2-1 win at Dignity Health Sports Park.
Gonzalez headed in the opening goal of the game, his first of the season, and saved a sure goal in the second half off the line to help deliver three points and keep the Galaxy’s faint playoff hopes this season alive.
The star turn was rather remarkable because Gonzalez has struggled badly pretty much throughout his Galaxy tenure, stretching back to last season. The Costa Rican international had previously been lights out in a short stint with the Columbus Crew in 2014, before an outstanding World Cup that year led to a whirlwind transfer to Serie A that year.
While Gonzalez was looking for a fresh start after his run in Italy came to a natural end, it seemed the Galaxy were getting a fantastic anchor for their backline last year, and that never materialized.
But Sunday’s game gave a glimpse of some promise yet for the defender, and it turns out one small tweak may have helped transform his game.
The Spectrum SportsNet local broadcast noted that Gonzalez was moved for the game from his usual spot in the left side of the central defensive partnership to the right side by interim head coach Dom Kinnear.
Normally, a small adjustment wouldn’t be a significant note, but in this case moving him from the left to the right seemed to flip a switch — it seemed to replace the perpetually struggling Gonzalez with the formerly dominant one.
Kinnear, in his first game in charge this season after the firing of Guillermo Barros Schelotto this week, explained the decision both to play Gonzalez, who had fallen down the pecking order under Schelotto, and why he moved him on the field.
“With Nick DePuy, Nick’s played a lot of minutes this year,” Kinnear told reporters in the postgame press conference. “He’s been carrying a little bit of an injury, he looks a little bit beat up at times, so I thought he deserved the night off tonight.
“In saying that, I think when Pipo steps on the field I think he’s more comfortable on the right-hand side than he is on the left-hand side. And I think someone [who] can handle the ball well on the left-hand side is Daniel [Steres]. That was it. It wasn’t really much into it, just for Pipo to have a game where he feels comfortable. I think he’s more comfortable where he was, and that was the right-hand side,” Kinnear added.
For his part, Gonzalez was pretty emphatic in his preference to play on the right side in the center back pairing.
“Yes, it’s one of the things Dom and I talked about when he took the reins of the team,” Gonzalez said in the postgame press conference via an interpreter. “He told me that he thought by watching training sessions through the season that I felt better playing on the right side of the center back line. I’m right-footed, so it’s obvious. I do feel more comfortable there. I’m thankful I had the opportunity to play there and was able to help the team get a victory tonight.”
Obviously, a one-game sample could be a fluke, and perhaps the new coach bounce from Kinnear replacing Schelotto played a role, too. But it does make some sense, that one small tweak led to a key player playing at his best once more. When Schelotto was playing him on the left side of the pairing, it wasn’t working. He gets moved over, he feels better and it works. It sure seems like Kinnear is already making a big difference for the Galaxy in terms of his coaching decisions, and a big beneficiary could be Gonzalez.
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