CARSON, Calif. (AP) — Right after the LA Galaxy raised their latest championship banner and said one last farewell to Landon Donovan, they went right back to business as usual.
They dominated defensively. They infuriated captain Robbie Keane with missed opportunities.
And the Galaxy calmly rolled over the first opponent of their next title chase.
Jose Villarreal scored in the 65th minute, Keane added a late goal and the defending champs opened the 20th MLS season Friday night with a 2-0 victory over the Chicago Fire.
Brian Rowe earned the shutout with just one save in a one-sided performance by the Galaxy just three months after they raised their third MLS Cup trophy in four seasons at StubHub Center.
“It’s just the first game, but I thought we were solid,” defender Omar Gonzalez said. “One of our goals is to be good the whole season.”
They’re off to the right start, particularly at home. The Galaxy are unbeaten in 17 league games at StubHub since March 8, 2014.
The night began with another visit from the retired Donovan, who wore a suit and tie when he joined his former teammates on the field for a brief pregame ceremony honoring MLS’ first five-time champion franchise in front of a sellout crowd.
The Galaxy hung a large temporary banner above the video board, but otherwise kept the night’s focus on their future without the most accomplished player in U.S. history, who turned 33 years old Wednesday.
“It’s very different not to see him in a jersey, but Landon is always supporting us,” forward Gyasi Zardes said. “He still texts me from time to time. It’s like he’s still part of the team.”
Coach Bruce Arena plans to try several strategies to fill the gap between Donovan’s retirement and former England captain Steven Gerrard’s arrival from Liverpool in July.
Villarreal and Kenney Walker started in midfield in the absence of Donovan and Marcelo Sarvas, who was traded to Colorado, but the lineup otherwise was filled with contributors to last season’s title.
“It’s the same team, for the most part,” Arena said. “They’re an experienced group, and they know how to play.”
Villarreal, a native of nearby Inglewood, capitalized on the first chance to fill Donovan’s spot on the left side of the Galaxy’s midfield. After a handful of early near-misses, he buried a quick shot when two Chicago defenders failed to clear Stefan Ishizaki’s cross.
Keane then delivered another score in the 81st minute with a vicious volley, picking up where he left off as last season’s MLS MVP.
But the Galaxy’s Irish star also had his body language in midseason form, gesturing demonstratively and even kicking the goalposts once when his teammates provided poor service. After Keane scored, he skipped his usual cartwheel-somersault celebration for what appeared to be an obscene gesture.
Keane didn’t speak to reporters after the game.
The Galaxy dominated possession and didn’t allow a Chicago shot to reach their net in the first half. But their inability to finish numerous scoring chances left Keane throwing his hands in the air in frustration. Villarreal notably had a point-blank chance in front of goal in the 41st minute, but sent it sailing high.
“I thought it was just a matter of time before we scored a goal,” Arena said. “We put them in a position where that team would tire out a little bit because they had to do a lot of defending in the first half.”
Before the game, the Galaxy re-signed forward Edson Buddle, a 100-goal MLS scorer who could help up front.
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