When Curt Onalfo took over as coach of the Galaxy in December, he promised to take the team in a new direction. Two games into the season he has delivered on that promise, just not in the way he had hoped.
With Sunday's 1-0 loss to the Portland Timbers at StubHub Center, the Galaxy have started a season with two losses for the first time since 2001, when they played at the Rose Bowl. And they've opened 0-2 at home for the first time in franchise history.
If that wasn't enough, the team also lost captain Jelle Van Damme to two first-half yellow cards, forcing it to play the final 56 minutes shorthanded, and lost Gio dos Santos at halftime because of a hamstring injury.
Van Damme will likely be suspended for next week's game. Dos Santos' status is uncertain, which is not good news for a team that began Sunday without five key players. Forward Gyasi Zardes and defenders Robbie Rogers and Ashley Cole were sidelined by injury, and midfielder Jermaine Jones and defender Dave Romney were serving one-game suspensions.
"You're always going to deal with adversity through the course of a season," Onalfo said after searching the black cloud for a silver lining. "You don't want to draw it up where it's this early. [But] I actually look at it differently: We'll be better for this.
"We got some players some minutes. That helps create depth for our team. I'm a forward-looking person, I don't look back. My job is to continue to make the group better and that's my focus."
The game's goal came in the eighth minute off a Portland counterattack that started with a Galaxy corner. The Timbers' Sebastian Blanco collected the long clearance and sent it forward to Diego Chara, who sped off with Diego Valeri on a two-on-one break that Chara finished easily.
"It was a bad goal to concede early in the game," Onalfo said.
It quickly got worse for the Galaxy, with Van Damme drawing yellow cards on plays in which he never made contact with the Portland players he was marking. On the first, referee Baldomero Toledo said Van Damme was cautioned for dissent while on the second he was booked for stopping "a promising attack."
Van Damme's expulsion forced Onalfo to bring on defender Bradley Diallo for his MLS debut, adding him to a young lineup that featured four starters with only four games of MLS experience combined. And they didn't fare well, managing only two shots on goal, both in the final 23 minutes, leaving the Galaxy scoreless from open play two games into the season.
Asked what the team needs to fix, midfielder Sebastian Lletget was direct.
"A lot," he said in Spanish. "We have to score goals, more than anything. And defend well. It's very simple. We have to get better."
It's far too early to push the panic button, especially since the last time the Galaxy went winless in their first two games — in 2014, when they opened with a loss and a draw — they went on to win the MLS Cup.
"We grew a lot today," Lletget said. "Moving forward, I still feel like we'll be OK."
So does Onalfo, who continued to find positives on a day that was mostly negative.
"The effort and they way they worked, they were warriors," he said of the players. "I'm very pleased and proud of the effort the guys put in. And that's what I'm going to focus on."