When the Galaxy signed Swedish midfielder Stefan Ishizaki this winter, it had one specific goal in mind.
“We needed to improve our passing in the midfield,” said Bruce Arena, the team’s coach and general manager. “We do that, it allows us to get Robbie Keane close to the goal.”
Three starts into his Major League Soccer career Ishizaki is already rewarding Arena’s confidence, setting up Keane for the only goal the Galaxy would need in Saturday’s 1-0 win over the Vancouver Whitecaps before an announced crowd 20,847 at StubHub Center.
The assist was Ishizaki’s second on a Keane goal in as many games, and he’s scored once himself. Imagine what he’ll be able to do once he gets fit and acclimated.
“Stefan’s performance tonight has been his best of the year,” Arena said. “And we certainly think he can get better as the year moves on.”
The transition from Europe to the MLS can be a long and difficult one, confessed Ishizaki, who has played in Sweden and Italy but never in the U.S.
“It’s been a big difference,” he said “The soccer is a little bit different. It’s more physical. A little bit higher pace.”
Ishizaki and Keane teamed up on the game’s only score in the opening seconds of the second half when Ishizaki backed defender Jay DeMerit toward his goal then bent a cross from the right edge of the 18-yard toward the far post, where it found Keane, who had split two defenders. Keane got his left foot on the ball before it hit the ground, volleying it into an open net for his third goal in four games.
“He’s a good player,” Landon Donovan said of Ishizaki. “He’s a good passer, a good finisher. That was a world-class goal.”
The Galaxy (2-1-1 and riding a two-game win streak) had a chance to double the lead and put the game on ice in the 82nd minute when Rob Friend, who had come off the bench moments earlier, raced in alone on a breakaway, only to push his shot wide of the left post. Six minutes later, Keane deked away from three defenders and set a chip over Vancouver keeper David Ousted, but the ball floated just over the crossbar and settled in the top of the netting.
Donovan, meanwhile, saw his first two shots of the night miss the net completely. His only second-half chance, in the 49th minute, was turned away by Ousted, extending Donovan’s scoreless streak in MLS regular-season play to six games dating to last season.
Vancouver’s two most dangerous chances came late in the opening half. On the first, Galaxy defender Omar Gonzalez redirected a pass in front of a charging Darren Mattocks, but the Jamaican international was denied on a stout save by Jaime Penedo.
The Galaxy goalkeeper, playing his first MLS game in more than a month, was even better a dozen minutes later, diving and getting his right forearm on a point-blank shot from Gambian teenager Kekuta Manneh.
The shutout was Penedo’s first of the season.