The Galaxy didn’t expect their rivals to perform so well.
By Andrea Canales | Goal.com
As I walked into the press box Tuesday night for the CONCACAF Champions League matchup between the Los Angeles Galaxy and the Puerto Rico Islanders, I announced, “Boricuas are in the house! The Islanders are here to put the smack down on the Galaxy.”
In general, the reaction was one of bemusement. A few of the LA-area reporters who didn’t know about my Puerto Rican roots looked confused. Even the ones who were aware, though, had that indulgent, “Oh, please,” expression.
However, I wasn’t just expressing loyalty to island ties – because the Islanders have had astonishingly successful runs in the CONCACAF Champions League in the past, surprising teams from both Mexico and MLS along the way. It’s a tournament the club’s players get fired up for and participate in without intimidation.
“We deserve it,” said Islander coach Colin Clarke simply about the victory. “Our boys worked very hard and took their chances.”
No, the Galaxy didn’t lie down and let the Islanders score goal after goal. Yes, goalkeeper Josh Saunders could have been a bit better on a couple of the goals, but none of them were absolute howlers. Los Angeles was perhaps ill-served by coach Bruce Arena’s tactic of replacing so much of the regular lineup – not one of the subs was hugely responsible for the loss, but the influx of so many non-regulars threw off the overall cohesion and chemistry – but LA still didn’t play horribly.
“We were knocking the ball around well and we had some chances,” acknowledged defender Greg Berhalter. “Unfortunately, we gave up a soft goal and we were behind the eight-ball.”
Of course, even thinking that the plucky Islanders would play well didn’t mean I was expecting them to put four goals in against the Galaxy, but the lower-league team seemed to gain momentum as the match continued. Though the Galaxy controlled the run of possession, the Islanders were eager to make an impact on every counter opportunity.
“We were out-competed in a lot of places, and we suffered,” Galaxy captain Landon Donovan admitted.
There’s a lot to be said for hustle and hunger – those were probably key elements to the Kansas City Wizards and their win over Manchester United recently.
“I don’t think we were ever in charge of the game, but throughout the game we kept our composure, kept playing and doing the things we needed to do,” said Islanders forward Nicholas Adderly.
Los Angeles simply didn’t come into the match with the same energy as the Islanders. Perhaps their run at the top of the league, where they are comfortably ensconced in first place, has made the squad a little complacent in the do-or-die format of tournament play. After all, the Galaxy have already been eliminated in the USA Open Cup competition.
What’s worrisome for the Galaxy is that MLS doesn’t crown a champion based on points total. The top teams on the season go into the playoffs, and it’s win or go home from that point all the way to the title.
“We have to start looking at these trends,” said Berhalter. “We’re giving up goals on set pieces. Those are trends that we don’t like.”
The Islanders may have given the Galaxy an important warning for the playoffs.
“If it’s a trend, then we’ve got to be concerned,” said Galaxy assistant coach Dave Sarachan.
Though the Galaxy players protested that they weren’t distracted by upcoming matches such as the All-Star game versus Manchester United (four Galaxy players participating) and a looming friendly versus Real Madrid, it’s true that for the Islanders, this was a high-priority game. Many of the Islander players are former MLS players (Josh Hansen actually scored against his former team, the Galaxy) who would love nothing more than to return to that level and are driven to show MLS teams that they belong there.
In particular, goalkeeper “Wild Bill” Gaudette’s play was inspired versus the Galaxy, as he made stop after stop on the likes of Edson Buddle and Donovan.
“He came up with the saves,” said Clarke, who himself may soon be sought-after as an MLS coach again in the near future. “He’s done that for us for the last few years in this competition. He’s someone who has been in MLS and maybe he feels that he should still be there and has something to prove. He’s a very good keeper. I’d like to think with expansion coming up, there’s a chance that Bill will step up and get somewhere in MLS next year if that’s what he’s looking for. And a performance like this won’t hurt him.”
Clarke also mentioned that the profile of soccer was growing in Puerto Rico, though the island’s main sports have traditionally been baseball and basketball. The result the team earned versus the Galaxy garnered more headlines for the team and will no doubt add to the game’s profile there.
The bottom line is that talent is not confined only in certain areas, and teams, whether EPL or MLS, shouldn’t take any opponents lightly because of division labels. Upsets are always possible and are part of what make soccer great.
As Sarachan said, “These teams are not bad teams. They’re good teams. We can’t concern ourselves with what the perception is on the outside.”