Seven weeks into the Major League Soccer season, the jury is still out on just how good the Galaxy can be this year.
But the team may have provided some answers Saturday, scoring four first-half goals in a 5-2 rout of previously unbeaten Real Salt Lake before an announced crowd of 25,867 at the StubHub Center.
The four first-half scores – by Gyasi Zardes, Mike Magee, Emmanuel Boateng and Giovani dos Santos -- were the first allowed by Salt Lake goalkeeper Nick Rimando in more than a month. And when Steven Gerrard scored in second-half stoppage time, it marked the most goals Real Salt Lake has allowed in a game since August.
For the Galaxy, who have bounced between wonderful and woeful in the last two months, the five scores gave them nine in their last two games and a league-high 17 for the season, suggesting the team may finally be finding its footing after an injury-plagued start to the season.
“We’ve got to hope we have a good team in October, November, December,” said Arena, whose team in unbeaten in its last five games. “Everyone gets real excited about what’s going on early in the season. But there’s a lot of time left to find out who can really play in this league.”
Contributing to the uneven start is the fact Arena hasn’t been able to use the same lineup twice this year. Saturday, for example, he was without midfielder Sebastian Lletget, the 10th starter to miss at least one game to injury or suspension this season. Yet the Galaxy didn’t miss a beat this time with Boateng, who didn’t learn he’d be taking Lletget’s place until Friday, picking up his first goal and first assist in only his second MLS start.
“The scary thing about this team and the last few performances is we still have Robbie Keane injured. We haven’t had Nigel [de Jong],” said Gerrard, who wore the captain’s armband in place of Keane. “We’re going to be even stronger when the captain comes back and Nigel comes back in as well.
“The confidence is growing. Certainly after the last two performances.”
Defender Jelle Van Damme, one of 10 players to join the roster since last season, agreed.
“It’s getting better and better,” he said. “We can only progress.”
The Galaxy attacked from the opening whistle and had a chance to go ahead early after Dos Santos was wrapped up by Real Salt Lake defender Tony Beltran deep in the 18-yard box, drawing a penalty. But Rimando anticipated Gerrard’s shot and dove to his right, smothering the ball at the post.
That allowed Real Salt Lake to go ahead in the 16th minute, with Luke Mulholland sending a cross across the box to Juan Manuel Martinez, who outjumped Galaxy defender A.J. DeLaGarza and headed the ball home.
It was the fifth time the Galaxy (4-1-2) has given up the first goal in a game this season. Nine days ago in Houston, the Galaxy allowed a goal in the opening minute – then answered with four of their own.
They responded in similar fashion Saturday.
Zardes got the scoring started in the 19th minute, running onto a Baggio Husidic pass that threaded two defenders, pulling up at the edge of the 18-yard box and thundering a right-footed strike into the netting at the far side.
Magee was next, putting the team ahead to stay in the 26th minute when he volleyed in a bending left-footed cross from Boateng. That was the rookie’s first MLS assist and 15 minutes later he picked up his first goal, punching a short shot past an overwhelmed Rimando, who faced 12 shots in the first 45 minutes.
The last shot of the first half came from Dos Santos, and that one also found the back of the net after the Mexican international, who was trailing the play, latched on to a loose ball at the edge the penalty area and lifted a left-footed chip just over Rimando and just under the crossbar for his third goal in two games.
“L.A. was good,” Salt Lake Coach Jeff Cassar said. “They were firing on all cylinders.”
Javier Morales of Real Salt Lake, who converted a penalty kick in the 70th minute, and Gerrard traded goals in a calmer second half. For Gerrard, the score was his first of the year.
“In a couple of months, we’re going to be a real good team,” Arena said. “We’re going to be playing together over the next two months and hopefully getting better each game.
“We have … good balance with some young players, some pace, some real experienced players. We have the potential to be a real good team.”
Follow Kevin Baxter on Twitter @kbaxter11