National Writer: Charles Boehm

LA Galaxy down RSL to continue climb: “This team has the fight”


Entertaining. Attacking-oriented. Wide-open. Flashy, streaky. Defensively suspect, occasionally downright chaotic.

To their own chagrin, that’s been the LA Galaxy’s brand for most of Greg Vanney’s time in charge, and particularly this year, since the arrival of big-ticket wing signings Gabriel Pec and Joseph Paintsil. Only two teams in MLS have scored more than the Gs’ 38 goals in 2024 league play, and Spanish playmaker Riqui Puig is perhaps the most explosive MLS creator not named Lionel Messi.

So Vanney and his side are cherishing the very different sort of statement win they produced in Sandy, Utah, on Saturday night: A cagey, grinding 1-0 road victory against Western Conference contenders Real Salt Lake. They achieved it without the injured Puig – and relatedly, without very much of the ball – as LA banked their third victory in eight days and their second straight clean sheet via Pec’s second-half winner.

“It's the third game. It was hot at the altitude. We knew it was going be a tough game for both of us, both teams,” said veteran Diego Fagúndez afterward. “We knew they rested a couple of players on Wednesday, so it was going to be tough, but this team has the fight, the grind.

“Today, everybody showed that. There was not one player that didn't leave it all on the field,” he noted. “We want to keep grinding, keep getting points, making sure that when we play the top teams, we can show that we can fight.”

Fagúndez proving worth

Remarkably, the Gs are unbeaten in the 11 games Fagúndez has started this season. This time he was filling in at the central playmaking spot for Puig, who is expected to return to training next week after missing time with a groin issue.

Setting aside Vanney’s usual preference for front-foot ball possession, the visitors sat deeper and dared their opponent to break them down, which proved wise.

“We did not try to press high today. Instead, we make a compactness, compact block and let them have the ball, do their best,” said center back Maya Yoshida. “So this is a very good structure.”

Arango injury scare

The Galaxy’s task was made easier when RSL star Chicho Arango was knocked out of the match just 21 minutes in by a large, bloody gash on his face sustained during an aerial challenge. It required 15-20 stitches to close, but seems unlikely to sideline him for very long, according to a club spokesperson.

“The guys that stepped in there, I thought they did a really good job,” said Salt Lake coach Pablo Mastroeni. “But I think to win, we just lacked a little bit of personality.

“Chicho, the gash was ridiculous on his head. So I'm sure he's in a lot of pain.”

Pec comes into his own

LA’s club-record signing when he arrived in a reported $10 million transfer deal over the winter, Pec is now on 6g/7a in league play and his growing comfort levels are evident.

“Finding ways for him to get involved was one of the first things we were trying to do with him when he first got here,” explained Vanney of the Brazilian. “At times when he first got here he was just hanging out wide, just kind of waiting for the game to come to him. We're working with him on when to find inside interior positions, maybe to get on the ball a little bit more.

“He's just really been involved, and the more touches we get, then the better it is for him, the more he's happy. What these guys do want is to touch the ball. And I think just his developing relationship with the guys on either side is starting to come around as well. So we know the quality he has.”

Vanney also pointed to Pec’s past experience in the Brazilian Serie A as a useful trait for weathering MLS’s hectic summer schedule.

“The guy is a tireless worker. I mean, he's a horse,” said Vanney. "I think he's played 50 games in each of the last three seasons. So coming here and playing the games that we have and the busy schedule moments, for him, it's nothing, he just lines up there and he goes and goes and goes. It's nice to have a player with that kind of durability that can just perform in and compete day in and day out.”

Ranking near the top of ‘watchability’ rankings like the one The Athletic produced earlier this month might earn LA some extra viewers on MLS Season Pass. But history suggests it’s not exactly the most direct route to hoisting hardware. That’s what makes this tidy, pragmatic defensive display against a fellow trophy contender so striking.

“Another shutout, that's two in a row. That's not something we've done in probably a long time. So that's a big thing for our group as well,” said Vanney. “We defend well, we're going to be really, really difficult to beat.”

The coach pointed to the additional training time offered by the recent international break, which gave the technical staff a chance to work through some tactical fundamentals at length.

“One of the things we really stressed inside of that is some of our defensive work, our positioning, our connectedness, making things a little clearer and more predictable for each other. I think we were really good in that in the last couple of games," he said. "Today we had to suffer a little bit at times, but we still did the job of making the game as predictable as possible and helping each other out.”