Riqui Puig and new Galaxy players return to action with shutout of Fire


The Galaxy played Saturday for the first time in four weeks and the team it used looked a lot different than the one it fielded in its last game a month ago.

Five of the players on coach Greg Vanney’s game-day roster weren’t on the team then. Two of them weren’t even in the country.

And what changed along with the roster was the result, with goals from Tyler Boyd, Riqui Puig and Billy Sharp giving the Galaxy a 3-0 win over the short-handed Chicago Fire, snapping a three-game losing streak before a home crowd announced at 19,762.

“The additions helped us a lot,” Vanney said. “It’s nice when you look down your bench, you know you have guys who could come in and can either lock down a game, help you take control of the game or actually help you see a game out. Over the course of the season, we’ve been really thin because of injuries and a number of things.”

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Vanney’s revamped starting lineup included center back Maya Yoshida, a former Japanese national team captain who signed a free-agent contract Aug. 3, and midfielder Edwin Cerrillo, acquired in a trade with FC Dallas on the same day. Sharp, a free-agent signing, and midfielder Michael Barrios, acquired in a trade with Colorado, came on late in the second half.

Vanney also wanted to use midfielder Diego Fagundez, also obtained in a trade, but the fourth official would not allow the substitution, apparently because of a mix-up with Fagundez’s uniform number

The Galaxy rescued their season with a similar makeover last summer, losing just one of their last 11 games to reach the postseason after adding midfielders Puig and Gastón Brugman and center back Martín Cáceres. But that climb was much easier since the team already was in playoff position when Cáceres, the last of the three, signed. Even with Saturday’s win, the Galaxy (6-10-7) remain 13th in the 14-team Western Conference table, seven points out of a playoff berth this year.

Whether the season ends the same way last year’s did remains to be seen.

“I hope the regular season looks similar to how we did last year,” Vanney said. “We needed a veteran center back, someone to help us lead, we needed a defensive midfielder, we needed some goal creation and some finishing. So it was good work. I hope the outcome is similar in terms of what it means for our team this year.”

Boyd put the Galaxy in front in the 29th minute with his team-leading fifth goal, which came seconds after Chicago’s Gaston Gimenez was sent off, having drawn his second yellow card for a reckless foul on Douglas Costa. On the resulting free kick, Costa drove a low, left-footed shot into the box that Chicago’s Carlos Terán headed down, but the ball took one bounce to Boyd, who volleyed it in with a sweeping left-footed shot for this third goal in his last four MLS games.

Puig doubled the lead in the 72nd minute and Costa set up that one too, slipping a nifty pass to the Galaxy captain at the top of the box, and Puig one-timed the shot into the upper right corner for his fourth goal. Sharp, a former Premier League forward who didn’t obtain his necessary immigration paperwork until Friday, closed out the scoring with a penalty-kick goal in the 90th minute, 19 minutes into his MLS debut.

“I was eager to get on the pitch,” said Sharp, 37, who scored 267 times for eight teams at three levels of English soccer. His first MLS goal came with his wife and two children in the stands.

“It was a proud moment,” he said. “We want to build momentum because we want to climb the table. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”

And the Galaxy could have had more Saturday after dominating the short-handed Fire (8-9-8), controlling the ball for nearly two-thirds of the 90 minutes while outshooting them 19-12, putting nine of those on target.

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The long pause between games for most of the Galaxy was even longer for Yoshida, who last played for Schalke of the German Bundesliga in May.

“Fortunately or unfortunately, I had extra time to prepare. I could focus on the first game,” said Yoshida, who turned 35 last week. “We are building confidence. We are understanding each other.”

The understanding was built during a month of training without games, the confidence in Saturday’s victory, the team’s first clean-sheet win in more than three months.

“Tonight those guys got an opportunity to integrate, we got to win and we should be better in the next game for having that experience together,” Vanney said. “It should get better as we continue to go.”

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.



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