With two road games (albeit one of them at the Stubhub Center) and two bye weeks (again, one of them manufactured by moving a game to later in the year to rest players during the Champions League run) since the home opener, it had been a long time since we had seen the Galaxy in their home whites against an MLS team.
The opponents this week were the Vancouver Whitecaps, who came in with 8 points on a 2-2-1 record, which was good for third place in the Western Conference, and a whole bunch of speed players that were going to test the Galaxy backline. The last time the Galaxy (1-1-1, 4 points, 7th place) faced the Whitecaps was last August up at BC place. That game ended 1-0 in favor of the Galaxy and was marked by two great moments – a Landon Donovan blast from 30 yards out for the game’s only goal and a save from Jamie Penedo that must be seen to be believed.
That save was the inspiration for a commemorative poster that the Galaxy made available at the game. The poster beatifies “San Penedo” and claims that “Los Angeles is in safe hands”. This is the first of a set of posters, one of which will be made available for purchase at each Galaxy home game to benefit the LA Galaxy Foundation.
I ended up with one of the posters by participating in the Foundation’s Easter Egg contest, where a donation of $20 to the Foundation got you the opportunity to select a plastic Easter egg, each of which had a named prize inside. The Penedo poster was my prize.
I did leave the telephoto converter for my camera at home for this game (see that adventure). As a result, my camera was allowed in the game, and I got some decent pictures. After the game, I did some reading of the user’s guide for my camera and found a “sports” setting that is supposed to help me get better shots – look for that in the future.
Penedo had not been seen on the field for the Galaxy since the sad game in Tijuana that saw the Galaxy give up three goals in the first twenty minutes and never able to recover. Jaime had to go back to Panama for the RSL game to resolve some visa issues and missed the Chivas USA game because of an injury picked up during training. Brian Perk started both of those games and gave up only one goal in those two game, but only faced three shots total. However, that did not quell some conversation that Perk may be challenging Penedo for the starting goalkeeper position on some blogs and fan forums. Penedo’s performance in this game confirms that, unless injured, San Penedo will be between the pipes for the Galaxy for the foreseeable future.
Of course, the other main story line of this game is whether this would finally be the game where Landon Donovan would score the goal that would break the tie he has with Jeff Cunningham for the most goals scored in MLS history. Landon last scored against Chivas USA in October of last season. That goal tied him with Cunningham with 134 goals. Coming into this game, Landon had gone six games without scoring a goal. But, since the Galaxy had gone 3-2-1 (remember – ties in the middle) in those matches and that he has looked sharp in the past two games, there was little concern over his form. The concern about Landon was that the Galaxy would embark on a four game road trip after playing Vancouver and if Landon did not score here, it was very likely that he would break the record in an opponent’s stadium and not in front of his adoring home fans.
Of course, if he doesn’t do it on the upcoming road trip as well, then who knows when 135 will come as Landon will assuredly be called to the US Men’s National Team training camp in May and will be on leave until after the US’s World Cup run ends. Come on, Landon! History awaits you!
The first half was the epitome of what Galaxy fans have seen for a while – dominate the possession and chances, but miss the closing opportunities. The Whitecaps were playing five midfielders and being very defensive minded, but the Galaxy still had their chances. Landon had a great chance to head a ball in for the record-setting goal, but sent the ball wide left.
Vancouver with its fast front line did also have chances in the first half, but Omar Gonzales surprised me with his ability to stay with the speedy front line players. But then behind it all was Jaime. Penedo was tested in the first half, and responded with at least two great reaction saves, keeping the game scoreless at halftime.
It didn’t take long in the second half to break the tie. In the two games prior to this one, the Galaxy had gone to a “diamond” formation, where the four midfielders arrange themselves in a diamond shape with one attacking midfielder at the offensive point of the diamond, a defensive or holding midfielder at the defensive side and the two wide midfielders completing the shape. In the game against Chivas, Stefan Ishizaki, one of the new players on this year’s squad, started at the attacking point of the diamond and scored a very nice goal from an extreme angle.
In this game against the ‘Caps, Stefan got another chance to attack and rewarded manager Bruce Arena, by taking a ball down the right hand side about three minutes into the second half and playing a perfect crossing ball straight to Robbie Keane’s foot for the Galaxy goal. He is starting to look like the credible third scoring option for LA after Keane and Donovan that should cause defenses fits in figuring out who to cover. This partnership and the diamond may be here to stay.
Stefan did not finish the game, as he was substituted for after 79 minutes. After the game, the commentary was that he is still not fully fit for 90 minutes, which is an amazing comment. On an episode of “Backstage: Galaxy”, Stefan appears in a very tight fitting undershirt that makes him appear to be quite ripped. If that’s not 90-minute fit, then by comparison I am about 27-seconds fit.
After that, the best opportunities went to the Galaxy but no one could finish. Rob Friend came on for the last ten minutes and looked dangerous again. He did have a scoring opportunity, but chipped it over the goalkeeper wide. I am seeing a trend where when the Galaxy get the goalkeeper off his line in a one-on-one situation, they want to chip the ball over or past the keeper rather than trying to power the ball home. I can think of at least three chances over this season that I would rather have seen the player take a full swing at the ball rather than trying to finesse it home.
But the Galaxy did keep the clean sheet for the second straight game. There was much consternation about the defense after the Tijuana series, which admittedly was a disaster for the back line in general and Leonardo in particular. But now the G’s have surrendered only two goals through four MLS games. In this game, Gonzales looked dominant and Leonardo did not make the big mistake. Leo did benefit from the soccer IQ of Landon in that late in the game when the ‘Caps were pressing for the equalizer, Landon dropped back all the way from the attacking midfield position to provide support for Leo against players like Mattocks, who had the potential to embarrass him.
That being said, I am hoping for Dunivant and Opare to return to game fitness from their injuries quickly, so that Leo can be a the super-sub on defense that he is meant to be.
And since Robbie scored the only goal of the match, we all must wait at least one more game for the historic 135 from Landon.
Two wins in a row for the Galaxy put them right back into the thick of the standings. This game may be pivotal later in the season as the G’s play four consecutive road games, followed by up to two months of games without Dovovan and Gonzales. Points won right now will be critical as the Galaxy may struggle without two of their best players.
The next home game will not be until a May 21st midweek game with FC Dallas. However, I have been thinking a road trip up to Portland for the Timbers match on May 11. Who knows? Maybe I’ll get to see #Landon135 up there! Watch here for more stories if I do go.
Landon has the last word…