Soccer at the StubHub Center! After the month-long road trip, which included yet another bye week, the Galaxy returned home to face FC Dallas. The road had not been kind to the Galaxy. The four match swing saw the Galaxy draw with Vancouver 2-2 where the G’s had a defensive breakdown between Leonardo and Penedo and give up a late goal to the ‘Caps, lose 1-0 to Colorado with Robbie Keane missing his second PK of the year, draw 1-1 with Portland where another defensive breakdown let the Timbers score the equalizer at the death, and finally a 1-0 loss to Houston with the only goal coming from another miscue when Dan Gargan threw in to Penedo, who was asking Gargan NOT to throw the ball to him. The Dynamo game was also the first game since the U.S. Mens’ National Team had started camp and started what was expected to be at least a month without two of the Galaxy’s best players, Omar Gonzales and Landon Donovan.
Without the defensive issues, the Galaxy could have come home with eight points from the road trip and been right in the middle of the conversation for being one of the best teams in MLS. Instead, two points over four games saw the Galaxy fall to technically last place in the Western Conference. However, that is a bit misleading since the G’s have played two to four fewer games than any other team. I prefer to look at the points per game as a more accurate gauge of where a team actually stands. Looking at that, the Galaxy were in sixth, only one spot out of the playoffs. Given that of the first eight games, six had been on the road (granted, one of those road games was at StubHub against Chivas) and that with all of the concern over the defense the Galaxy had given up only seven goals in eight games, things weren’t quite as bad as some of those panicking would have you think.
The Galaxy marched out for the game with FC Dallas desperately needing, not only the three points from the match, but also a good showing along the way to calm the nerves of Galaxy Nation. They certainly picked the right team to do it against. FC Dallas started the season as the hottest team in MLS with five wins and a draw in their first seven matches. Starting with the Mauro Diaz injury, that form left them and they came to the StubHub with four losses and a draw in the last five.
The Galaxy still had to deal with the absences of Landon Donovan and Omar Gonzales due to World Cup training camp, as well as Todd Dunivant, Leonardo and Marcelo Sarvas due to injury. The Galaxy tried to deal with this by moving Robbie Keane to the point of the diamond midfield that the Galaxy have used most of this year, but that was pretty much a failed experiment. This game featured the flat 4-4-2 that the Galaxy used all last year with a look to the future. Bruce Arena went with young player at centerback, pairing Tommy Meyer with Kofi Opare and in the midfield, putting Kenny Walker in for his first start of the year and reinserting Gyasi Zardes into the starting lineup. Robbie Keane went back up top to his more comfortable forward role.
Robbie being Robbie
The game started out a bit choppy, but in the 24th minute, Robbie Keane took a pass from Zardes, dribbled past one Dallas defender, came to the top of the box, faked out two other defenders, and finished with a shot that split those two defenders and beat the goalkeeper to the upper left corner of the goal. It was a classic goal that should put an end to the discussion that Robbie is “rusty” and also ensure that Robbie will be playing the rest of this season nowhere else but at forward.
Shortly before halftime, Juninho lifted a ball from the offensive midfield into the box, where Zardes found an open spot in the defense to head the ball over the goalkeeper for a 2-0 lead. Zardes has been an enigma for the Galaxy. After a sparkling pre-season, many soccer analysts had projected him as a breakout star for this season. Unfortunately for the Galaxy, Zardes in the regular season receded back to the player that he was last year, with bad decision after bad decision piling up until he was removed from the starting lineup and eventually sent to the LA Galaxy II for a chance to put his game back together. Zardes had an excellent game in his only appearance for Los Dos and was quickly promoted back to the senior team. This performance, while not the dominating breakout we are all waiting for, was good enough that Zardes will likely be with the G’s for the rest of the season.
Dallas came out attacking in the second half. The Galaxy defense held up for the most part. Dallas scored a goal when a Walker clearance attempt was intercepted and caught the defense reacting. However, replays show clearly that the goal scorer for Dallas was offside and so the clean sheet should have been in tact.
For the me highlight of the half was a period of about five minutes from the 76th to 80th minute where the Galaxy showed that their fitness was greatly superior to Dallas. According to the stats, during that period the Galaxy has possession for 92% of that time, connecting pass after pass. The Dallas team were clearly gassed and the Galaxy ran all around them killing the clock. The young legs on the field came through.
In the end, the Galaxy won 2-1 jumping them from 9th to 6th on pure points and to 5th, passing FC Dallas, on a points per game basis.
No More “Oh, Leonardo”‘
Galaxy fans have been puzzled over the continued inclusion of Leonardo in the Galaxy defense. Every time the ball gets behind the defensive line, the faithful would wait on the edge of their seats expecting to see an even more spectacular blunder than we have seen before. The road games against Tijuana, Vancouver and Portland made it seem obvious to me that the Galaxy have better options at centerback.
Two weeks ago, Leonardo broke a finger in practice and, combined with the absence of Omar Gonzales, forced Bruce to go with the pairing of Tommy Meyer and Kofi Opare. For two games now, this pairing has been commendable. Opare is similar to Leo in size, but has much greater recovery speed, in addition to a greater ability to win balls in the air. Meyer has been solid, making no great blunders, while still providing the size that Arena loves on defense.
With the rumor that after the World Cup, Omar will be sold on a transfer to Club America of Liga MX, I think that Bruce has found a the centerback pairing for the future. Gargan and DeLaGarza on the wings have been super (Gargan’s blunder against Houston aside), and will only get stronger and deeper as Dunivant and Riley return from injury over the next few weeks. Leo should not be seeing the pitch in the near future barring yet another defensive injury.
Living without Landon for a month or LESS??
This is a World Cup year. Most of the rest of the world runs their soccer seasons from the fall through the winter to the spring, and they are in the offseason during the World Cup. MLS, due to different weather than Europe, has to run its season from spring until fall. That means that MLS is right in the middle of its season when the World Cup happens, and MLS teams just have to work around the concept that their best players will be gone for a significant amount of time serving the national team. For the Galaxy that means losing Omar Gonzales and Landon Donovan.
Landon has been part of the last three US teams at the World Cup. He is the all-time leader in goals for the National Team and 2nd in appearances (also known as caps). With the heroics that he has provided, it was a foregone conclusion that Landon was going to be part of the National Team again headed to Brazil.
The day after the FC Dallas game, Jurgen Klinsman, the head coach of the US team, released the final roster for the World Cup that did not include Landon. The response was shock and disbelief. It is hard to understand how Landon is not one of the best 23 players available to the US. As of now, the debate is still going on.
From the Galaxy’s viewpoint though, this means that Landon comes back to this team and will be available for the next game against Philadelphia. We are all hoping that Landon is motivated by this unjust oversight and will dominate as he can.