If their defense doesn’t respond, the Galaxy could be choosing different ways to keep dying.
By Andrea Canales | Goal.com
Aug 2, 2010 12:53:00 PM
One of the lies that players on sports teams tell both themselves and others are that games in a crowded summer schedule are of equal priority.
Friendly versus big European team in front of a big crowd?
Second-leg CONCACAF Champions League Match versus feisty second-division squad that’s jumped out to a three-goal lead?
“They’re both important,” Los Angeles Galaxy defender Todd Dunivant said when comparing the Puerto Rico Islanders match to the exhibition versus Real Madrid.
The problem for the Galaxy is that they are in a summertime slump of late – or as much as any team still six points clear at the top of the league standings can be. The past few matches have been been coach Bruce Arena’s personal Waterloo, as teams he coached gave up a grand total of a dozen goals in three games. A loss to Manchester United by the MLS All-Star team of 5-2, combined with the 4-1 defeat of the Galaxy by the Islanders, and then a league loss to Chicago Fire of 3-2 to make up Arena’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week.
“For me personally, I’ve had better weeks in my life,” Arena said, opting to forgo his usual sarcasm for deadpan understatement.
Of course, it probably didn’t help matters for the All-Star team to have their coach and key players busy with a CCL match the night before – especially one that ended up so spectacularly badly for the Galaxy when Arena shuffled his roster slightly.
“The approach that MLS had to take spelled nothing but disaster,” Arena said of the All-Star experience.
Those who would blast Arena for not putting out his standard starters versus the Islanders ignore the fact that the coach put in his best attacking options, Landon Donovan and Edson Buddle, for the match. Yet that in itself could be part of LA’s overall problem – emphasizing their attack over their defense.
“We’ve started to be better with the ball and we’ve started to attack better,” Donovan said of the Galaxy. “That’s not getting results right now.”
Granted, any team at the top is a target for all the others, but the Galaxy’s fall in form in such a short while is more than MLS parity striking back. It’s a killer combo of other teams improving via reinforcements while LA stayed pat, as well as a frontrunner’s stumbles in a crowded summer schedule.
“I don’t think it’s the pressure,” Arena said of his team’s problems. “It could be complacency.”
Chicago Fire Carlos de los Cobos may have pinpointed the key to taking the Galaxy apart.
“They were obligated to win, and when that happens, a team ends up losing,” said the Fire coach, whose team did not get a single shot off in the second half after jumping out to a 3-0 lead in the first half. “We positioned ourselves well on the field and we waited for them to attack us and within 30 minutes, we had won the game.”
Arena conceded the Galaxy’s vulnerability. “Teams are coming in with a real defensive posture yet scoring a lot of goals because of mistakes.”
Even the Galaxy’s youngest player recognized that Los Angeles has lost their way of late.
“We need to get back to what we were doing earlier in the year, and that’s playing hard for each other and coming out and competing and realizing that the teams aren’t going to come here and lay down,” said Tristan Bowen.
What’s odd is that the Galaxy, stuck with chasing matches, has also played some creative, attacking soccer in their bid to get back into games. Arena’s players have looked for all the world like Ruud Gullit’s 2008 squad at times – the one which would score goals only to give up as many or more. Arena’s organized approach was supposed to be the antidote to that.
“Those are games where we need to be smarter,” Arena acknowledged. “The poison in all of that is to get behind. It allows them to maintain the kind of defensive shell that we’ve seen. Our tactical understanding has been very poor. That falls on the coach.”
Bowen also blamed weariness, and it could very well be that he and midfielder Michael Stephans are hitting the infamous «rookie wall».
“There’s tired bodies now. The season’s starting to take its toll.”
Yet the way the Galaxy started the season – being very tough to break down and beat – could provide the answer to get the club back on track.
“We need to get back to defending first,” said Dunivant. “We’ve kind of gotten away from that. We’ve had more the mentality of attacking teams.”
Of course, it’s hard to make defense a priority in the upcoming Islanders match when the Galaxy face a three-goal aggregate deficit, but Dunivant didn’t see the situation as hopeless.
«We have a lot of pride. We’re going to go to Puerto Rico with the idea that we can win, otherwise there’s no point in going.”
The Galaxy can’t really have it all ways, though – shoring up the defense while simultaneously running rampant on the attack, any more than they can expect to go full-out versus both the Islanders and Real Madrid in such a short span that also includes travel across the country.
“Anytime you have 90,000 fans [at a match], you want to show well,” Dunivant said of the rationale for performing at the highest level against the Spanish giants.
Though they may not seem like it of late, the Galaxy are the standard-bearers of MLS, the club that many who know little else about USA club soccer look to as an indicator of the league’s level. What they are seeing now is a team off-course,
“We need to concentrate early in games,” Dunivant diagnosed. “Before, we always scored early and defended well. That hasn’t happened. We’ve been having all the chances and all the ball, but that doesn’t matter in the end.”