Bruce Arena guessed it would take about two months to figure out what kind of team he had with his rebuilt Galaxy squad.
Three weeks into that timetable, he’s still a long way from an answer. But he learned at least one thing Saturday in a 3-1 win over the San Jose Earthquakes: This team is resilient.
The Galaxy coach used a different lineup for the third consecutive game -- then watched for a third time as a starter limped off the field with a leg injury. But his team managed to rally to victory with two second-half goals from Gyasi Zardes and a penalty-kick score from Robbie Keane before a sellout crowd of 25,667 at the StubHub Center.
This time it was midfielder Steven Gerrard who went down, failing to last three minutes before heading to the sidelines with a strained left calf. He was replaced by Baggio Husidic. And in the closing seconds defender Nigel de Jong twisted an ankle, which left him hobbled as well.
“It affects us, having key players go out,” Zardes said. “But it gives an opportunity for the young guys.”
Added De Jong: “It’s always hard. They’re all important players for us. But you’ve got to give credit to the guys that have come off the bench as well. It’s not only about the 11 players that are on the pitch.”
Depth was supposed to be the strength of the Galaxy going into the season, and the spate of injuries is now testing that theory. Before Gerrard went down the Galaxy lost midfielder Gio dos Santos and goalkeeper Dan Kennedy, who were both hurt in the first half of the Major League Soccer season opener. Forward Alan Gordon and defenders Jelle Van Damme and Ashley Cole have also missed at least one game with various ailments.
As a result Arena has started two goalies, four forwards and hasn’t repeated the midfield or backline pairings this season.
“I’m obviously concerned about it,” Arena said of the injuries. “But I’m also looking forward to seeing some other guys get on the field and help us. Over the next couple of weeks we’ll figure out what we’re going to do. Likely when we go to Vancouver [for the next game April 2] we’re going to have a number of changes in our lineup.”
The Galaxy (2-1) finally caught a break against the Earthquakes in first-half stoppage time when referee Ismail Elfath, who gave out more cards Saturday than a realtor at an open house, showed San Jose’s Simon Dawkins a straight red for a rough challenge on Sebastian Lletget.
“It hurt us playing down a man for a good period of time,” said San Jose Coach Dominic Kinnear, who also got a warning from Elfath over his conduct on the bench.
“I have nothing to say about the way the game was officiated,” Kinnear repeated afterward.
The Galaxy needed just 11 minutes to take advantage of the short-handed Earthquakes, with Zardes scoring at the end of well-choreographed set piece.
The sequence started with Mike Magee tapping a free kick toward Robbie Keane, who feinged a dribble, then backheeled the ball back. Magee quickly sent a cross from the left wing on the far side of the box for Van Damme, who headed it to an unmarked Zardes for an easy goal, his first goal since last August.
“Gyasi changed the game,” Magee said. “He got in good spots. We needed someone to open it up.”
Six minutes later he scored again, with the two goals doubling the number San Jose (2-1) had given up in its two previous games.
San Jose pulled one of those back in the final minute of regulation when Chris Wondolowski took advantage of a defensive error by Van Damme to score his third goal of the season, giving him a share of the league lead.
But a minute later Keane was tripped by San Jose’s Victor Bernardez entering the penalty area. Elfath quickly pointed to the spot and Keane stepped up and converted for his second penalty-kick goal of the season.
After the game Keane left for Ireland, where he will play a pair of friendlies for the Irish national team. Zardes is leaving Sunday for Miami, where he’ll join the U.S. team for two World Cup qualifiers against Guatemala.