It couldn’t get much easier for Mexican star Giovani dos Santos in his debut for the Galaxy.
He stood outside the six-yard box on the left side of the attacking half, not a single defender near him. The pass came in from Rafael Garcia, rolling slowly on the ground. He had time to set himself up for a one-time, left-footed shot. From such close range, the goalkeeper had no chance.
Only 19 minutes after entering the game Thursday, he had his first goal for the Galaxy, which went on to a 5-1 victory over Central FC at StubHub Center in the first match of the CONCACAF Champions League.
His shot, in the 76th minute, was not a blast. It didn’t leave the ground. But it was perfectly placed, striking the far goal post before slotting nicely into the back of the net. The crowd of 13,625 at StubHub Center exploded with its loudest cheers of the night. The Galaxy was up, 4-1. More important, Dos Santos gave the Galaxy a hint of why he is worthy of the hype surrounding his arrival.
Before Dos Santos scored or even entered the game, the result seemed all but assured for the Galaxy, which dominated, an encouraging start to the tournament that team President Chris Klein said was a major goal of the squad.
But winning was secondary to the debut of Dos Santos, who signed with the Galaxy a few weeks ago. Coming off an injury in last month’s Gold Cup, he played only 33 minutes Thursday. Yet it was more than enough to give fans to make it clear why the 26-year-old has stirred such hype.
As he began to stretch, the Galaxy supporters fans cheered. When he made his way to the midline to check in and sub for Alan Gordon in the 57th minute, they chanted his nickname, “Gio.”
He finished the night with five shots, two on target, and an assist. Still, Coach Bruce Arena was measured in his praise of Dos Santos following the match.
“He did a good job. He’s obviously going to get better. He’s only in training a couple days and he’s missed the last couple weeks. But it’s good to get him on the field, and I’m sure that in a short amount of time he’ll be back to his full fitness.”
It certainly didn’t hurt Dos Santos that the Galaxy entered the match as heavy favorites over the Trinidadian side making its first appearance in Champions League play. With an important MLS match looming on Sunday against the Seattle Sounders, Arena gave most of his starters the day off Thursday.
Only two regulars started the match, and Sebastian Lletget and A.J. DeLaGarza came in as substitutes. The team’s other big stars, Robbie Keane and Steven Gerrard, were not even on the bench, as Arena ruled them out before kickoff.
In their place, he went with an inexperienced squad that responded well to some early adversity. Gordon, who wore the captain’s armband for the game, got the Galaxy on the board with a header in the fourth minute, but soon afterward, Central was granted a controversial penalty when its striker, chasing down a pass, went down in the box as Galaxy keeper Brian Rowe came out to collect the ball.
Central converted the penalty to knot things up in the sixth minute, and Arena said he was impressed with how his young players responded, shutting out Central from the attacking third. For the rest of the half, Central had one shot, off target, and attempted 17 passes, compared with 88 for the Galaxy. The Galaxy won possession 66% to 34%, and had 23 shots, 12 on goal, compared to three total for Central.
After the game, Arena declined to say whether Dos Santos would start Sunday. But Dos Santos was hopeful.
“I feel good,” he said. “It depends on the manager. I know it’s a difficult game against a very tough team. But I’m looking forward to it.”