The Galaxy returned to Dignity Health Sports Park on Saturday night for the first time since COVID-19 shut down Major League Soccer in March. But it wasn’t exactly the homecoming the team had envisioned.
The stadium was empty, with massive blue tarps covering the normally crowded grandstands along the east sideline. And the hushed din of a taped crowd, which sounded more like white noise than fan noise, did little to make the game feel like anything more than a preseason scrimmage.
But if the atmosphere wasn’t satisfying the result was, with the Galaxy twice erasing deficits to earn a 3-2 win on Sebastian Lletget’s goal in the 82nd minute.
San Jose got goals from Valeri Qazaishvili and Cade Cowell — one in each half — while Daniel Steres and Cristian Pavón also scored for the Galaxy.
The Galaxy, much improved from the team that returned from the MLS In Back tournament last month without a win, were playing their second game in the league’s reboot of the suspended regular season, a sprint that will see teams play 18 times between mid-August and early November.
The Galaxy were supposed to play at home Wednesday, but that match, along with four others, was postponed when MLS players joined with those from the NBA, WNBA and Major League Baseball in sitting out games to call attention to systemic racism and police brutality. That result was an exhausting and emotional week even without the extra game.
“The unusual has not been this week but the whole year,” said Galaxy coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto, whose team has played just seven times in this COVID-interrupted season, before the game. “I understand that it is difficult to talk about football at the moment. And that talking about football this season is confusing.”
With no fans in the stands, the national anthem was not played but both teams took a knee during a pregame moment of silence in recognition of the Black Lives Matter movement. It really didn’t get much louder once the game began, allowing the shouts of the players and coaches to echo through the empty stadium.
The Victoria Block, the new safe-standing supporters’ section on the north end, was silent, a couple of dozen banners and handful of flags socially distanced throughout the 2,000 seats while about a hundred cardboard cutouts of fans leaned against aluminum back rests in the upper rows of two sections behind the south goal.
PA announcer Michael Araujo, who was a half-hour down the freeway working the Angels game in Anaheim, recorded the names for the Galaxy’s starting lineup from his home in Upland earlier in the week — with an assist from the players’ families and, in one case, a pet. But during the game, goals, substitutions and cautions went unacknowledged, as if they never happened.
Adding to the challenge for the Galaxy where the Earthquakes, a team they have beaten just one in their six most recent tries. But then this has been an unusual season too for San Jose, which was playing Saturday for the first time in four weeks.
The Galaxy, as they did in last week’s win over LAFC, came out pressing. San Jose (2-2-2) needed less than 11 minutes to break that press, though, with Qazaishvili losing defender Julian Araujo on a diagonal run through the center to the penalty area. Tommy Thompson then sliced a pass from the end line through three Galaxy defenders to Qazaishvili, who nudged it in with left foot.
The Galaxy (2-3-2) matched that in the 33rd minute when a leaping Steres, his back turned toward the goal, used his left shoulder to deflect Lletget’s long free kick just inside the near post.
Cowell, making his first MLS start, got that one back 14 minutes into the second half, taking possession on the left wing, dribbled across the top of the box to create space, then one-hopping a soft right-footed shot in at the far side for his first MLS goal.
The lead was again short-lived, though, with Pavón evening the score in the 72nd minute on a penalty kick, awarded when Tanner Beason was called for a hand ball in the box.
That sent the stage for Lletget, who rushed to the far post for Efrain Alvarez’s long, bending corner kick. San Jose keeper Daniel Vega appeared to get a hand on the ball but could only push it toward Lletget, who knocked it in for his second goal in as many games.
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