Oscar Pareja would probably have been content with a draw for his FC Dallas side on Saturday, what with his team having played a midweek CONCACAF Champions League match and the LA Galaxy being a traditionally tough team to beat at home. That much seemed clear as he subbed off attacking threats Cristian Colman and Michael Barrios and inserted defensive-minded Atiba Harris in the second half.
Instead of settle for a point, FC Dallas took advantage of a lackluster Galaxy showing to produce a Kellyn Acosta winner shortly after those seemingly defensive-minded substitutions and grab all three points in the kind of victory that sets a perfect tone for what Pareja's men are hoping is an MLS Cup-winning season.
The LA Galaxy have more MLS Cups than anybody, but there wasn't much seen on Saturday to suggest another trophy is on the way to StubHub Center this year. Sure, they were missing three key starters, which can't be forgotten, but there was still enough talent to produce a better display than we saw on opening night.
You couldn't really blame the Galaxy fullbacks for struggling considering starters Ashley Cole and Robbie Rogers are out injured, and young forward Jack McBean was decent playing in place of Gyasi Zardes. It was actually the play of the Galaxy midfield, where the team has devoted an inordinate amount of resources, that should raise some eyebrows.
Jermaine Jones and Joao Pedro looked a little too similar in central midfield, which is worrisome considering how much the Galaxy have invested in the pairing. Sources tell Goal the Galaxy paid a $1 million transfer fee for Pedro, who turned in a reasonable debut. But watching him and Jones together you were left with the feeling they want to do the same things, which isn't going to bode well for the midfield's balance.
The lack of chemistry between Pedro and Jones was never more evident than on Acosta's winning goal, which came after he raced past both Pedro and Jones, who both reacted far too late to the young midfielder's foray before he struck a perfect shot past Brian Rowe.
Romain Alessandrini's debut definitely didn't live up to the hype that has surrounded his arrival as the Galaxy's latest designated player. He started well enough, with a promising first-minute shot that suggested he was ready to shine, but that early chance was probably the highlight on a day when he failed to deliver a single successful cross or shot on goal.
Then you had Sebastian Lletget, who Bruce Arena was probably excited to see given the likelihood he is considering starting Lletget in a very important World Cup qualifier later this month. What Arena saw was Lletget be deployed in what is, at best, his third-best position, on the right wing. With Jones preferred to Lletget in central midfield, and Onalfo choosing to start Alessandrini on the left wing, Lletget put in a ton of work on the right before swapping wings with his French teammate in the second half, and outproducing the new DP on the night.
Onalfo eventually made the head-scratching decision to move Lletget to right back later in the second half, as the Galaxy chased an equalizer, despite acknowledging after the match it wasn't something the team had tried before.
The Lletget right back experiment was borne out of necessity, but that necessity comes from a roster that lacks the kind of balance that Arena's Galaxy were famous for. It's one thing to decide you want to go with a young stable of forwards, but it's something else to start the season with a roster light on reliable defensive bench options, which has only served to make the Galaxy's trading away of veteran defender A.J. De La Garza all the more of a head-scratcher.
Right now, the Galaxy's roster resembles a puzzle with attractive pieces, but pieces that may not necessarily fit together. It will be up to Onalfo to make it work. Having Zardes, Cole and Rogers healthy along with a high-profile striker would certainly make that job easier.
FC Dallas doesn't have such problems, benefiting from the kind of of well-balanced and deep roster most teams in MLS could only dream of having. Pareja had the luxury of fielding a strong team against Arabe Unido in Wednesday's CCL quarterfinal second leg, but also had the depth to be able to rest some first-choice options, like Colman, who started on Saturday against the Galaxy. Pareja didn't even need to bring on Javier Morales against the Galaxy, a luxury FC Dallas can enjoy after several years of smart roster building.
In fairness to the Galaxy, they are in the early stages of a major transition in personnel, one that was going to happen even if Arena had stuck around. The Galaxy will need time to come together, and also time to to adapt to Onalfo, just as the club's new manager will need to feel out his roster and figure out where best to use players (like perhaps using Lletget centrally). The Galaxy might also need to add another defender if Rogers' ankle doesn't heal properly.
It could all still go well for the Galaxy, and we could have someone like Zlatan Ibrahimovic or Javier 'Chicharito' Hernandez donning a Galaxy jersey in the summer as they make another run at an MLS Cup. That's the dream Galaxy fans will continue to hold onto, even after the loss to FC Dallas, but the reality is that dream scenario felt very far away on Saturday.
FC Dallas, on the other hand, looked much, much more like a team equipped to finally realize its MLS Cup dream, even though we are nine months away from finding out if that dream will become reality.