After years of predictable, if somewhat boring brilliance, the Galaxy are offering something different this year: suspense.
And not just about wins and losses. The team has also added the element of surprise to its starting lineup, which has changed 14 times in 14 games this season.
Yet while the win lifted the Galaxy into a tie for third in the Western Conference standings and kept it unbeaten in 27 games at StubHub Center, it also underscored just how difficult it's been for Arena to find a winning combination: The victory gave his team consecutive wins for only the second time this season — and consecutive shutouts for the first time.
"This has been a very difficult start of the season. It's been patchwork from Game1," Arena said. "I give our guys a lot of credit."
The situation won't get better until the Galaxy gets healthy. Fourteen players have already missed time to injury or illness. Three others missed starts because of suspension or international duty.
So against Real Salt Lake, the defending Major League Soccer champions opened the game with Robbie Keane on the bench and Baggio Husidic on the back line for the second time in his MLS career. Mika Vayrynen and Ignacio Maganto, who weren't even on the team when the season began, were in the midfield.
Things have gotten so bad, in fact, the Galaxy almost lost two more men on one play when Vayrynen and Alan Gordon both went down in a heap after colliding late in the first half. But neither would come out of the game.
"We have a bunch of guys that have just stepped up and dealt with all the issues we've had," Arena said. "It's not easy every game playing someone different. Hopefully we can hang in there and keep our heads above water."
Playing before a midweek crowd of 13,391, the smallest of the season, the Galaxy peppered the Real Salt Lake net with seven shots in the opening 45 minutes, though its only goal came on a penalty kick in the seventh minute. After defender Jaimson Olave was whistled for a handball, Juninho stepped to the spot, took a stutter-step, then buried a right-footed shot into the top left corner as keeper Nick Rimando dove the other way.
Three weeks ago Rimando guessed right on a Juninho penalty in stoppage time to preserve a tie. This time fate was on the Galaxy's side.
And the Galaxy got another sign its luck may be changing when Keane, who hasn't started a game since April 4, came on after intermission and immediately made his presence felt, setting up a scoring chance with a long lead pass to Maganto, then chipping a ball into the six-yard box for Gyasi Zardes, who just missed.
Edson Buddle, another second-half substitute returning from injury, also looked healthy. In his first appearance in more than a month, Buddle bounced one shot off the goal post before sending a stoppage-time header over the crossbar.
"They're going to turn," Arena said of his team's fortunes. "It's going to be a pretty challenging year."