Los Angeles Times

Hernández sparks Galaxy

His 11th goal of the season in second half ties the Dynamo but L.A. faces a road test.

- By Kevin Baxter

His goal in the second half helps team tie the Houston Dynamo and stop a two-game losing streak at home.

Want to know how the Galaxy are going to do in any given game? Don’t bother with the oddmakers or exotic stats such as expected goals or power ratings. Just check the lineup and if Javier Hernández is playing, chances are it’s going to be a good night for the team.

It happened again Wednesday, when Hernández scored early in the second half to rescue the underperfo­rming Galaxy in a 1-1 draw with the Houston Dynamo before a sparse midweek crowd announced at 15,341. Although the tie was a disappoint­ing result against a team that hasn’t won on the road this season, it ended a two-game home losing streak while solidifyin­g the Galaxy’s hold on fourth place in the Western Conference.

More importantl­y, the team is 7-3-2 this season when Hernández plays and 4-5-3 when he doesn’t, making the right calf injury that sidelined him for nearly three months this summer the most intractabl­e opponent the Galaxy has faced this season.

Still, there’s plenty of room for improvemen­t said coach Greg Vanney, whose team had its winless streak grow to five games with the draw.

“For us being at home, the intensity level at the beginning didn’t have enough urgency,” he said. “It was like we wanted to play this beautiful passing soccer, but we needed to go impose ourselves on the opposition and set the tone and tempo of the game. We’ve got to be able, with this group, to find the emotion and the urgency and still stay organized and purposeful in what we’re doing.

“We as a group have to get to another level. We’re still disjointed.”

The Dynamo (4-10-11), who have won just once in their last 18 games, opened the scoring in the 13th minute when Fafa Picault got behind center back Sega Coulibaly, ran onto a low through ball from Darwin Quintero, then beat backup goalkeeper Jonathan Klinsmann with a right-footed shot toward the far post. It was his team-leading ninth goal of the season and third in four days. Klinsmann was making his second start of the season in place of Jonathan Bond, who is out indefinite­ly because of what the Galaxy are calling a lowgrade quadriceps strain.

Hernández matched that in the 61st minute, leaping between defenders Adam Lundkvist and Teenage Hadebe to nod home a long cross from halftime substitute Dejan Joveljic. The goal was Hernández’s 11th of the season — and first since June 26 — but he paid dearly for it, banging heads with Hadebe, who remained on the turf for several minutes. In addition to tying the score, the goal also lowered Hernández’s season average to a score every 92 minutes, the secondbest percentage in the league among players with at least six goals.

Add in his one assist and Hernández has been directly involved in 12 of the team’s 37 goals this season, nearly twice as many as his nextproduc­tive teammate. And the team is unbeaten since he returned to the lineup four days ago, drawing both Colorado and Houston.

So the Galaxy (11-8-5) figure to go only as far as Hernández’s balky calf can carry them. And the road ahead is a tough one. Wednesday’s game was the Galaxy’s lone September match at home, where they have a conference-best seven wins. The next three games — and six of the last 10 in the regular season — are on the road, where the Galaxy are 44-3. It’s a trek the team won’t survive playing like it did Wednesday.

“We still could do much, much better,” Hernández said, echoing his coach. “We’re not even scratching the ceiling as [to] how good this team can be.

“Good enough to be champions? We don’t know. We’ll see.”

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