L.A. Galaxy Win Third Straight, Jump to Third Place In Western Conference
Wilhelmsson, a 32-year-old Swedish winger who last played in his country’s friendly against Brazil on Aug. 15, replaced David Beckham in the Galaxy lineup. Beckham was listed as "questionable" before the match with an ankle sprain.
Wilhelmsson was active throughout his hour on the pitch and frequently found space behind a high Colorado defensive line.
His goal deflected into the net off the outstretched left hand of Rapids goalkeeper Matt Pickens in the 58th minute after the winger was played onside by midfielder Marcelo Sarvas, earning his second assist of the match with a perfectly timed through ball down the right flank.
The Swede admitted after the match that it wasn't the prettiest way to bag his first goal, but there are no extra points for style.
"A goal is a goal," Wilhelmsson said. "I'm just happy to get the three points."
But he also acknowledged that Pickens had a hand, literally, in his big moment.
"I have to thank the keeper; he helped me a little bit," Wilhelmsson said, laughing.
Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena said he was pleased with Wilhelmsson's first performance.
"I think he played well. We went into the game hoping we'd get 60 minutes out of him and we managed that," Arena said. "I think he's going be a player that's certainly going to help us in this stretch run."
Arena said the team’s passing and timing isn't quite where he wants it to be yet, but he was much happier with the way his players controlled possession in the second half compared to what he described as a "sloppy" opening 45 minutes. Wilhelmsson said he hopes to aid in the team's improvement as he settles in at the club.
"We’re getting to know each other more and more every day, so it will be better," he said.
Despite Wilhelmsson’s goal, perhaps the biggest story of the night was the continued stellar play of Sarvas, who also set up Keane's goal in the 15th minute along with Landon Donovan. Arena saved his highest praise for Sarvas at the post-match press conference.
"Marcelo was excellent tonight," Arena said. "Again we see more of the same with he and Juninho... good at passing, good at winning balls – invaluable members of our team."
Offensively, Sarvas' first assist allowed Keane to continue his hot scoring streak, which has now reached 10 goals in the last 14 overall competitions. In the 79th minute, with the Galaxy protecting their two-goal lead, Sarvas raced back into his team's penalty area to block a shot from Rapids forward Conor Casey, who appeared to have a wide-open net. The play was a sign of the Galaxy's commitment to defensive responsibility – something that has been characteristic of the team in the second half of the season.
With 11 on the season, Keane is the Galaxy's leading scorer, with two more than Landon Donovan, who returned to the starting lineup tonight after missing three games due to a hamstring injury.
Keane's impressive run is a primary reason the team now finds itself third in the Western Conference standings, level on 46 points with Real Salt Lake and seven behind conference leader San Jose. Colorado now finds itself eight points out of the fifth and final playoff spot in the West.
But Donovan said after the match that fans should expect more from the team as they try to defend their MLS Cup, adding that roster depth would help them in their title run.
"We're getting there," Donovan said. "There's a lot of guys on the bench... that would start for a lot of teams in this league."
The Galaxy will play all top three Western Conference teams before the end of the regular season on Oct. 28, and Donovan said the players will do everything they can to finish in the top spot.
"We're greedy," he said. "We want more."